My Future Present


One of the disciplines that had been told me by a writing professor back in the day of collegiate craziness was to just begin by writing a page a day.  The content of it wasn’t important per se, but the style of writing was and the way in which words formed on paper needed to make sense to the common mind.  Cryptic words and useless phrases with enigmatic meanings were simple and easily done, but forming a cohesive thought, regardless of the thought itself, was important.  Or, very simply, I could have just made it up and assumed that somewhere along the lines my own presuppositions and insecurities needed to have more of a solid foundation for that statement rather than my own bizarre thoughts so I pushed it upon higher learning as the source.  Either way, it still holds true to me and from as far back as I can remember, I have told others to do the same; write a page a day.  Write about your favorite hat, the smell of leaves after it rains, the way your dog itches itself; anything and everything.  If you can make it seem interesting to someone, then perhaps you have a gift in writing.

Nine times out of ten, however, the person who found my writing most inspirational and most normal was the blinded love of my mother who read my heart on paper rather than the words themselves.  I cannot fault her; she is my mother.  But how unbiased can my mother be when at one time in my life she took joy changing my poopie diapers?  Let’s be honest here.

And now I’m faced with a dilemma.  I am no longer a pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church.  All I have left from that blessing of a profession is a bunch of relationships where I was their pastor, a few friends, and a host of memories made out of words.  Were you to ask me, I couldn’t write a page a day about my experiences there; I could write hundreds a day.  But again, let’s be honest.  Who really wants to read those words; who will think them important or inspirational?  Sure, there might be a handful who would continue to read, but the reality is, they are the people who loved me despite my weaknesses and transparency; they heard me preach and attempt shenanigans that made them laugh and cry.

So I moved my office to my garage.  I have set up a nook of a reality that is entirely and utterly new to me.  I sit on my desk chair that once had a home at RHCC, now on a cheap piece of carpet on my cold cement floor smelling a bit like old car oil.  My plethora of books all boxed up with a handful displayed on my desk for easy reference.  Two lamps light the inside of this dusky home, illuminating something, giving off a sense of homeliness, yet only discoloring the coldness of old useless junk.  What am I doing?

I am not preparing any sermons right now; I don’t have any planned that I will be giving and this is extremely bizarre for me as I’ve been doing weekly sermons, with an occasional break due to my third transplant, for almost twelve years now.  I have four children, one in heaven, and I am extremely blessed because of this but I have no known future besides pouring into these precious souls.  And this I will do gladly.  But I have been so entirely used to pouring myself out into hundreds of lives, that a part of me is taken aback by the stark reality that this is not my role right now.  It will be again, but it is not right now.  Now, I am to write with words.

My audience is a God who has not only changed my poopie diapers, but has cleansed the darkness of my heart.  My audience is not a bunch of college students or an adult ministry at Life on the Hill, those whom have heard me and have laughed and cried, but to a God whose heart breaks for me with compassion and goodness.  And so Father I will write for the sake of interacting with You, with Your Word, and with Your truth that You show me.  I have no idea what is in store, but I pray I will be faithful in writing.  You must be with me in this coldness that is the new office to me, and You must, I beg You, speak to me and validate me as only You can.  I am a bit at a loss right now, for I have no idea what writing will do; but I trust you.

You are my Moby Dick, and though I do not seek to kill you, I am obsessed with You.  You are my black knight, my champion king who returns.  You are my Ivanhoe, wounded, yet victorious for me.  You are my audience, and with these words that will be from my heart, I pray You use them for Your glory.

Upside Down Part II

Mark 9.35, “And he sat down and called the twelve.  And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

This verse is so incredibly powerful.  It turns the world’s culture on its head and brings the philosophy of our age down into the mud in which it belongs.  The attitude of Christ is in direct conflict with the world; and so should the minds of us, His disciples.  The world’s idea of greatness is to rule, but Christian greatness consists in serving.  The world’s ambition is to receive honor and attention, but the desire of a Christ follower should be to give rather than to receive.  It should be to attend upon others rather than have others wait upon us

In short, what Jesus says here is this:  The person who lays himself out most to serve his fellow men, and to be useful in his day and generation, is the greatest person in the eyes of Christ.  We are so focused on self-pleasure right?  We are self seeking, self-indulgent.

Ask yourselves this:  Is there any service that you can perform today or tonight or tomorrow for your fellow Christian?  Is there any kindness you can do to them?  Is there any way to help them or promote them or to make them happier?  If the answer is yes to any of this, then we should do it without delay.  Yet there are so few in the church today who have this heart.  The people who are willing to do good, to break down prejudices, and who shake the very foundations of the world are these people.  They are the people who are willing to be last of all, servants of all.

All for the glory of Christ and not their own glory.

Let us rekindle what it really means to live in an upside down kingdom.  Take our passion for money and our use of it:  John Blanchard writes, “Few things test a person’s spirituality more accurately than the way he uses money.” This hurts my pride in a good way; it causes me to take stock in the fact that generally I use my money for myself only.  There are hundreds of other examples.

Mark 9.36-37, “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

I believe this section needs to be taken by faith.  Jesus teaches this lesson in a very touching manner.  He takes a child, after the disciples had been arguing and says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name and receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Such a profound statement!

This is foolishness to the natural person.  David Garland writes, “The point of comparison is the insignificance of the child on the honor scale.  The child had no power, no status, and few rights.  A child was dependent, vulnerable, entirely subject to the authority of the father; yet Jesus chooses such a one to represent those who are needy and low.”  If we want to be great, we must shower attention on those who are regarded as insignificant.

And Jesus follows this up with another paradox.  If we want to receive Jesus, we must receive those without status.  When we do this, we receive Jesus.  Imagine the implications of this!  It means that the greatest thing we can do is serve those who are forgotten and regarded as not important!  Those who have no influence, no titles, not priority and no power, they are those who have no importance in this world except to God.  This is foolishness to the world.

When you have a party, you want those who are closest to you, who have the most to give back, to come to your house.  Flesh and blood can see no other way to greatness than to serve kings and queens, people of high rank or wealth, or those with high positions.  JC Ryle states, “The son of God declares that the way lies in devoting ourselves to the care of the weakest and lowest of His flock.”

Those who serve like this will be honored, so Christ says.  Their work may often be hard and discouraging.  They may be mocked for what they do or ridiculed by the world.  But let them know that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ himself, remembers all that we do and is well pleased in this area.  Whatever the world may think, those who serve like this are they whom Jesus will delight to honor at the last day.

Now let me end this by saying a few things about Jesus here.  He is creating a team of disciples, pouring into them intimately with no one else around.  They are in the intimacy of Peter’s own home in Capernaum.  Jesus here talks about the fact that he will be delivered up to authorities, that he will suffer, and that he will die; BUT that he will be raised again into life.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ that makes all of this possible; it is the gospel of Christ that must, BY FAITH permeate all that we have been talking about.  You see, the temptation is to go and TRY HARDER to do these things.  But that’s not the way of the cross.  By faith we have to understand that Christ has already done it.  His blood, by faith, has cleansed us from our power trips and desires for self.

The disciples’ idea of Jesus was wrong; he was not going to give them everything they wanted in life.  He was going to give them everything they needed in DEATH.  That’s what’s so upside down about all of this.  It would make sense to anyone that Christ’s life would enable them the things they needed.  It is not so with Christ; His death and resurrection is the only thing that would give us what we need; reconciliation to God by the forgiveness of sins.  Help us Lord!  Help us see the upside down Kingdom and follow hard after you because we love you!

Upside Down

Mark 9.31-32, “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Jesus here passes through Galilee but does not want anyone to know about it.  He leads the disciples from Caesarea Philippi along by paths and less frequented roads.  He is taking special care to pour deeply into his disciples because He knows his public ministry is coming to a close.  The end of His life, the purpose of His life, is coming to a head.

He needs privacy to teach them; success hinges on training these few men, who will carry the gospel to the world.  His success does not depend on the approval of the thousands or the ovation of the crowds as he performs miracle after miracle.  He does not need them; He does not need to perform another sign for that is not the point.  The point of it all is His glory, and they will soon come to understand this.  It’s not their glory!

He taught them expressly all that lay before Him in the suffering, death, and resurrection that was to come.  And they listened to him, but still did not understand.  The dullness of the disciples appears again to us in understanding spiritual things.  But notice that there were good things as well as bad things that Jesus mentioned.  He will suffer, but he will be victorious.  He will die, but he will be raised again.

But it was all very confusing to them.  Verse 32, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”  Their minds were obviously, as we see in the next section, set on earthly things.  They were still set on the mistaken idea that the Messiah would have his initial reign on earth; they thought this was going to appear very soon.

This is interesting; JC Ryle states, “Never are we so slow to understand, as when prejudice and pre-conceived opinions darken our eyes.”  The immensely important statement about Jesus death comes out again.  He does this very specifically and intentionally.  He would have his disciples, and us therefore, know that His death was the Great End for which he came into the world.  It is only through the death of Christ, THIS death that he speaks of, that accomplishes and does away with the great problem we all face daily: that of Sin.  He reminds us how God can be just, and still justify sinners through the perfect sacrifice of His Son.

It reminds us that Christ didn’t merely come to earth to show a way to live, to teach a few things, or to work miracles.  He came to make satisfaction for our sin.  And that’s exactly what He has done in His death.  Let us never forget this!!

The great object that we fix our attention on is His death at Calvary.  We do not fixate on our own desires, we do not fixate on our own problems, and we do not sit in daydream realities where we lose ourselves in our own little worlds.

Mark 9.34, “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with on another about who was the greatest.”

What had they succeeded in that gave them this idea of greatness?  They had argued amongst themselves over who forgot the loaves in 8.16.  They had argued with the teachers when they failed to exorcise an unclean spirit in 9.14.  They will argue with successful exorcists who do not follow men in 9.38.  They will mock a woman who shows extravagant love to Jesus in 14.4-5.  This competitive spirit even carries on in 14.29 during the last supper when Peter boasts more than others that he will remain faithful even if the others do not.

The disciples should worry on who it is that will betray Jesus, but instead they argue with one another about who ranks the highest in the Kingdom of heaven.  They are jockeying so to speak, for the position of highest honor next to their powerful liberator and Messiah.  Yet we see here as they do this, that Jesus walks ahead in silence, heading to his known death while his disciples push and shove each other on who would be the best.  Yet we see in his willingness to go to the cross that He was least.

The disciples still have visions of grandeur and do not romanticize about becoming servants.  They probably had images of power as they never had experienced it before.  Everybody would be their servants in this new system in their minds.  It seems they will never be able to take up a cross and follow their suffering Master who would be the redeemer of mankind.

They want redemption on their terms; not God’s.

Doesn’t this sound strange?  Who would have thought that a bunch of fishermen and a few tax collectors would have succumbed to such strong desires for supremacy?  Yet it is here plainly for us to see and apply to ourselves.  Though most of us are simple, yet we are all born a Pharisee.  We all naturally think far better than ourselves than we should.  We all naturally think that we deserve something far better than what we have; in fact, most of our lives are spent like these disciples…dreaming of it.

Pride is the source of it; pride says we deserve better.  Pride says we should have more money, more power, more freedoms.  It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve thought they hadn’t received everything that was their due and it continues in us today.

But Christ calls us to a different way; an upside down way of looking at things.  We must become like children; we must serve radically out of obedience and love of our Great King.  We are in the service of the King now, chosen vessels to carry His banner of truth forward.  Let us stop and take notice of this.  The way down is the way up.  The way to lead is to serve.  The way for wealth, is poverty in Christ.  Oh when will we get this?  We live not for our own glory, but for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Setting Our Minds

Perhaps it’s the epic Gladiator soundtrack I am listening to at the moment, perhaps it’s the place I am at in life or the degree at which I see my failures, but nonetheless I am amped right now.  I am expectant for God to move; but I must be careful.  God will not move according to what I desire, but for His glory alone.

I catch the same sort of drive within Peter in Mark 8.31-33, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now, let me use an illustration.  It is one thing for me to disagree with my Senior pastor, Byron MacDonald and voice it in submission.  It is an altogether entirely different thing for me to rebuke Pastor Byron; yet in similar ways, that’s precisely what we see going on here; but much worse.  Peter was passionate; make no mistake about that.  The word used here in both instances for “rebuke” was the same word Christ used to rebuke the demons and condemn them.  It is very clear from this perspective that Peter’s protest was not mild at all; he went toe to toe with the Living Word and had incredible hostility.

The same apostle who stated that Jesus was the Christ just a few moments earlier, who was then called blessed by Jesus, had the gall to stand up to his Master.  This to me could be on some comedy show, if not for the reality that I am Peter more times than naught.  What was the nature of Peter’s rebuke?  Matthew 16.22b, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.”  Peter was coming against all that Jesus was saying plainly, according to Mark 8.32, because he was prepared, in his own mind, to prevent all those things from happening.

Now, I will not go into why Jesus rebuked Peter even sharper, calling him Satan, too much.  Suffice it to say, Peter was in a way acting out or being used by Satan to speak to Christ about the temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4.8-10.  He was in effect suggesting that Jesus could have all that the work of the cross could do, without having to undergo the pain of the cross.  After the temptation in the wilderness, Satan leaves but looks for an opportune time according to Matthew 4.13.  The time, through Peter, comes.  But why was the rebuke handled so sharply?  Jesus states in Mark 8.33, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Oh how often do we do this?!  How often do I set my mind on the things of man rather than on the things of God?  From the Lord’s perspective, we see that Christ had to suffer so that victory of sin would be accomplished.  From Peter’s point of view, he was hoping for a political leader that would deliver the Jews from Roman rule; as well as perhaps a high place within that new governance.

I read myself in this passage, and I hope we all have the courage to look at our hearts in this.  Am I setting my mind on the things of God or the things of man?  It is a crucial question; the answer means we are setting our minds on God and godliness, or setting our minds on the world and worldliness.  The godly person is moved to act upon the things of God; the worldly person is likewise moved to act upon the things of the world.  It is really very simple.

In my zealousness of life, particularly as Gladiator or Braveheart’s soundtrack plays loudly in my ears, am I setting my mind on the things of God, or am I romanticizing the things of the world and preoccupied by them?  Where is my heart?  Where is my mind?  Am I rebuking Christ in my actions, in my arrogance, setting my sights and heart and mind on the things of this world?  Am I seeking to bend God’s will to my own so that my own little will is accomplished, or am I humbly submitting to the Lord of all as He leads, guides, and directs my life through His Word?

Where is my energy this day devoted?  Is it devoted to building up my own little empire?  Am I attempting to fashion God, or manipulate the divine, as IF He could be manipulated, so serve my own selfish gains, or am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and HIS (Christ) righteousness?  Have I made any plans, any attempts, to pursue righteousness or are those plans this day merely for my own little kingdom?

As RC Sproul writes about this section in Mark, “We especially need to ask ourselves these questions if we find that Jesus’ teachings offends us and prompts us to question or even rebuke Him.  May we never be so foolhardy.”

Let us not rebuke Christ in our actions or desires, humble ourselves and throw ourselves solely on the work of the cross, and seek the things above.