Transferring to New Website

To both of my loyal readers:  ;-)

I am transferring this blog to a new website: http://marklake.org.

There is a new “how to” post there today, and another post planned for Friday.  I’ll be blogging there from now on, hopefully more regularly.

I would love it you took a few seconds to check it out and subscribe to the new blog!

Thanks!
Mark

Feeling Stale? Here’s A Cure For Spiritual Dryness (New Day Book Review)

newday_med

For most, if not all Christians, there are times when our spiritual life feels stale, dry, or perhaps even empty.  You may read the Scriptures and spend time with the Lord, but it doesn’t seem to produce anything.  While these times are certainly tough to weather, it can be helpful to focus on the newness that is in Christ.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21:5 NASB)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

New Day: The New Humanity Lives in the New Creation by Means of the New Covenant is a new book by Milt Rodriguez that may help provide a cure for spiritual dryness.

Milt writes in his typical conversational style, but in a unique way. New Day is written as a devotional style book as though Jesus is speaking to the reader, which makes the book more personal.

New Day reveals beautiful pictures of all that is new in Christ. The new day, the new humanity, the new covenant, the new command, the new creation, the new song, the new heart, and more – all of this is in our Lord, and it is growing newer and newer!

There are many Scripture references throughout the entire book, although it is recommended to read the book first as though you are reading a letter, and then read through it again looking up the specific Scripture references.

I really enjoyed this book as it daily drew me closer to Christ and helped me to focus on what is above, where Christ dwells in eternal newness. This book is a true gem!

Here are some quotes from the book:

“I am the rising One! I have not only risen (past tense), I am also still rising. In fact, rising is a part of my very life and nature. I am always rising. I live in perpetual rising. This continual rising gives light and warmth to all things. I am rising itself. And I am rising within you. This rising gives birth to newness inside of you. My newness, freshness, light, and warmth are rising in you.”

“My kingdom, my new creation is a massive place. The spaciousness of this place cannot even be grasped by the human mind. It is the place where all of my riches can be seen, known, and experienced. It is the place of the great expanse and the great adventure. It is the place of the glorious unknown and the wonderfully never ending discovery of me. And inside of me and only inside of me will you receive your fulfillment. This is the place where your life supply will be found. This is the place where you will discover all of your unlimited resources. So enter into this vast land where you can roam for the rest of eternity. You have been chosen before creation for such a destiny. You have been chosen before the old creation to live in the new creation.”

“You can of yourself do nothing. But as you abide in me, and live by my life, you will fulfill this new commandment. You will love your brothers and sisters as I love them because it will actually be me loving them through you. The foundation of this great love is my cross. It is the beauty and power of a life laid down and resurrected by the power of the Spirit. This love comes from a certain kind of lifestyle; the crucified lifestyle. That is, a life which is constantly being laid down for others.”

Thank you, Milt for this refreshing unveiling of Christ.

(This sounds like something to sing about… don’t miss the great new song below!)

Amazon (Paperback)

Amazon (Kindle)

Milt’s Website

Withholding Love

Jesus makes many bold statements in His Sermon on the Mount. One such statement was:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 NLT)

More than likely, someone who is considered your enemy is doing something that harms you. They may be completely in the wrong of the situation. They may have no legitimate reason for causing you harm, pain, or discomfort. And yet Christ calls us to love them anyway. Not only that, but His indwelling Spirit in you brings forth His character and manifests His power to love enemies in and through us.

Nevertheless, this is a difficult saying to follow! It is even difficult to always love those whom we would consider our neighbors.

What Jesus essentially says is that His desire is that we love everyone, regardless of their behavior towards us.

Honestly, can we really imagine any less for the Bride of Christ?

I bring this up to share an observation that I have seen in myself and others who desire to follow Christ and live by His life: when a person treats someone badly (like an enemy would), they often respond by withholding their love from the person hurting them. But in reality, this is exactly the opposite of the character of Christ. The love of Christ transcends human behavior. Everyone is eligible to receive His love.

What is more, I have observed Christians (myself included) who do this to those that you think would be their neighbor, such as their spouse, children, parents, friends, and other Christians.

The reality is that instead of turning away from someone who hurts us, Christ’s life in us draws close and embraces them. Christ’s life desires to shower them with love, even when we are hurting.

We further see this contrast in the parable of the prodigal son. When the wayward son returns home after squandering his father’s inheritance, the father runs and greets him with a hug and lavishes him with gifts and a parrrtayyyy! The older brother, however, distances himself from the celebration and broods over his father’s easy forgiveness and love towards his restored son. Again, the father approaches the elder son in love.

In Against the Tide: The Unforgettable Story Behind Watchman Nee by Angus Kinnear, a story is told of the young Watchman Nee telling a mentor of his about a coworker in the Lord’s work who always refused to follow Nee’s logical advice. The brother was a few years older than Nee and he used this to get his way over and over. After much complaining to his mentor, she said to him,

“‘Have you, right up to this moment, never seen what the life of Christ is? Do you not know the meaning of the cross? These past few months, you keep asserting that you are right and your brother is wrong. But do you’, she went on, ‘think it right to talk as you have been talking? Do you think it right to come and report these matters to me? Your judgment of right and wrong may be perfectly sound, but what about your inner sense? Does the life within you not protest against your own resentful behavior?’

By meeting him thus on his own ground she had touched him on the raw. Dumbfounded, he had to admit to himself that even when by human logic he was right, the Holy Spirit within pronounced his attitude as quite wrong.”

Neither our own rightness nor someone else’s wrongness should really determine how much love we give to someone else. Jesus, in His own words and actions and through His indwelling Spirit in us, compels us to love all in all situations.

Certainly, there are times when something that is right in the Lord’s eyes requires a strong stance from us; but even this must be done in great humility and love.

In the Apostle Paul’s words,

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:14-21 NLT)

In other words, don’t withhold your love from others, even when you’ve got a legitimate right to do so. By this, the Bride of Christ becomes perfect, “even as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

Caves and Islands

mark:

A wonderful view of what Christ has done with our shame and fear!

Originally posted on Harvest of Pearls:

CAVES_and_ISLANDS_Kat_Huff

Shame’s Island
Most often, shame is seen through the eyes of others. We shame one another, and we do so when we think we are helping by our attempt to correct one another with our own perceptions of one another. In my experience, it is usually the pointing finger of shame that sees itself, instead of the one it is pointing to with its poisonous arrow.

Shame dwells on a lonely shadow-island bound by its illusion. Shame isolates, shame divides us. Jesus despised shame. In our Father’s eyes we have no shame because Jesus took our shame away. He is the Life-giving Spirit who lives in us. He is not shamed in the eyes of God, and so, neither are we shamed. If God does not shame us, then why is it that we shame one another?

Shame is the opposite of Acceptance.

According as He did choose us in…

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Being Brothers and Sisters – Part 2

mark:

Great post by Milt Rodriguez and friends!

Originally posted on The Blog of Milt Rodriguez:

I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.   (Ephesians 3:14,15)

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.   (Galatians 6:10)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,   (Ephesians 2:19)

but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.   (1 Timothy 3:15)

It’s very apparent from the New Testament writings that one of the aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ is that we are a family.  This is…

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Origin Stories

It seems that in Hollywood these days all the superheroes need an origins story.  Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, and so on.

In The Indwelling Life of Christ, Major W. Ian Thomas gives us a peek at Jesus’ origins story:

“It is not the nature of what you do that determines the spirituality of any action, but the origin of what you do. There was never a moment in the life of the Lord Jesus that was without divine significance, because there was never anything He did, never anything He said, never any step He took which did not spring from a divine origin. There was nothing in His life that was not the activity of the Father in and through the Son. He lived out thirty-three years of availability to the Father, so that the Father in and through Him might implement the program that had been established and agreed upon between the Father and the Son before the world was even created.

Why did the Father five all things into the Son’s hands? Because Jesus Christ was completely Man, and He was completely Man because He was completely available. For the first time since Adam fell into sin, there was on earth a man as God intended man to be.”

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.   – John 14:10

An interesting question is: how much of what I do is originated by Christ’s life indwelling me?

A Profound Parable

I’d like to share a parable with you that has deeply impacted me and those I have shared it with.  This story was passed to me a couple of years ago by a dear friend, Solomon Levine, while we were sharing time together at a spiritual retreat camping with some other brothers in Christ.  It was fitting as we were sitting outside sharing the Lord’s life together and we had been contemplating how Christ is revealed in nature.  Solomon’s father, Alan, had shared the story with him.  I forget the publication that had printed it, but I recall the pages were quite worn.  I took pictures of the pages with my phone so that I could read and reflect on the story in the future.  I have not been able to find a source to request permission to share the parable, so I’m going to go out on a limb and share this precious story here.  The story is below and a few thoughts from myself are at the end.

The Parable Of The Bamboo
By B. E. Newcomb

On the hillsides in the Kucheng District of China, the most valuable trees are often marked with the owner’s name. A common way of
 conveying water from the mountain springs down to the villages is in channels made of lengths of bamboo fitted one to the other.

A beautiful tree stood among scores of others on a lovely hillside, its stem dark and glossy, its beautiful feathery branches gently 
quivering in the evening breeze.

As we admired it we became conscious of a gentle rustling of the leaves, and a low murmur was distinctly heard: “You think me
beautiful, you admire my tall stem and graceful branches, but I have nothing to boast of. All I have I owe to the loving care of my Master. 
It was He Who planted me here in this very fruitful hill, where my roots, reaching down to and dwelling in hidden springs, and
continually drinking of their life-giving water, receive nourishment, refreshment, beauty and strength for my whole being.”

“Do you see those trees to one side, how miserable and parched they are? Their roots have not yet reached the living springs. Since I
found the hidden waters, I have lacked nothing.”

“You observe those characters on my stem? Look closely–they are cut into my very being. The cutting process was painful–I wondered at the time why I had to suffer–but it was my Master’s own hand that used the knife, and when the work was finished, with a throb of unutterable joy I recognized it was His own name He had cut on my stem. Then I knew beyond doubt that He loved and prized me, and wanted all the world to know I belonged to Him. I may well make it my boast that I have such a Master.”

Even as the tree was telling us of its Master, we looked round, and lo! the Master Himself stood there. He was looking with love and
longing on the tree, and in His hand He held a sharp axe.

“I have need of thee,” He said. “Art thou willing to give thyself to Me?”

“Master,” replied the tree, “I am all Thine own–but what use can such as I be to Thee?”

“I need thee,” said the Master, “to take My Living Water to some dry, parched places where there is none.”

“But, Master, how can I do this?”

“I can dwell in Thy Living Springs and imbibe their waters for my own nourishment. I can stretch up my arms to heaven, and drink in Thy refreshing showers, and grow strong and beautiful, and rejoice that strength and beauty alike are all from Thee, and proclaim to all what a good Master Thou art. But how can I give water to others? I but drink what suffices for my own food. What have I to give to others?”

The Master’s voice grew wondrously tender as he answered. “I can use thee if thou art willing. I would fain cut thee down and lop off all
thy branches, leaving thee naked and bare, then I would take thee right away from this thy happy home among the other trees, and carry thee out alone on the far hillside where there will be none to whisper lovingly to thee–only grass and a tangled growth of briers and weeds. Yes, and I would still use the painful knife, for all those barriers within thy heart should be cut away one by one, till there was a free passage for My Living Water through thee.”

“Thou wilt die,” thou sayest; “yes, My own tree, thou wilt die, but My Water of life will flow freely and ceaselessly through thee. Thy
beauty will be gone indeed. Hence forth, no one will look on thee and admire thy freshness and grace, but many, many will stoop and drink of the life-giving stream which will reach them freely through thee. They may give no thought to thee, it is true, but will they not bless thy Master Who has given them His Water through thee? Art thou willing for this, My tree?”

I held my breath to hear what the answer would be. “My Master, all I have and am is from Thee. If Thou indeed hast need of me, then I
gladly and willingly give my life to Thee. If only through my dying Thou canst bring Thy Living Water to others, I consent to die. I am
Thine own. Take and use me as thou wilt, my Master.”

And the Master’s Face grew still more tender, but He took the sharp axe and with repeated blows brought the beautiful tree to the ground.
It rebelled not, but yielded to each stroke, saying softly, “My Master, as Thou wilt,” And still the Master held the axe, and still he
continued to strike till the stem was severed again, and the glory of the tree, its wondrous crown of feathery branches, was lost to it
forever.

Now indeed it was naked and bare–but the love-light in the Master’s face deepened as He took what remained of the tree on His shoulders and, amid the sobbing of all its companions, bore it away, far over the mountains.

But the tree consented to all for the love of the Master, murmuring faintly. “My Master, where Thou wilt.”

Arrived at a lonely and desolate place, the Master paused, and again His hand took a cruel-looking weapon with sharp-pointed blade, and this time thrust it right into the very heart of the tree–for He would make a channel for His Living Waters, and only through the
broken heart of the tree could they flow unhindered to thirsty land.

Yet the tree repined not, but still whispered with breaking heart, “My Master, Thy Will be done.”

So the Master with the heart of love and the face of tenderest pity dealt the painful blows and spared not, and the keen-edged steel did
its work unfalteringly, till every barrier had been cut away, and the heart of the tree lay open from end to end, and the Master’s heart was
satisfied.

Then again He raised it and gently bore it, wounded and suffering, to where, unnoticed till now, a spring of Living Water, clear as a
crystal, was bubbling up. There He laid it down–one end just within the healing waters. And the stream of Life flowed in, right down the heart of the tree from end to end, along all the road made by the cruel wounds–a gentle current to go on flowing noiselessly, flowing
in, flowing through, flowing out, ever flowing, never ceasing, and the Master smiled and was satisfied.

Again the Master went and sought for more trees. Some shrank back and feared the pain, but others gave themselves to Him with full consent, saying, “Our Master, we trust Thee. Do with us what Thou wilt.” Then He brought them one by one by the same painful road and laid them down end to end; and, as each fresh tree was placed in position, the Living Stream poured in fresh and clear from the Fountain through its wounded heart, the line growing longer and longer, till at last it reached to the parched land, and weary men and women and little children who had long thirsted came and drank and hastened to carry the tidings to others: “The Living Water has come at last–the long, long famine is over; come and drink.” And they came and drank and revived, and the Master saw, and His heart was gladdened.

Then the Master returned to His tree, and lovingly asked “My tree, dost thou now regret the suffering? Was the price too dear–the price
for giving the Living Water to the world?” And the tree replied, “My Master, no, a thousand, thousand times, no! Had I ten thousand lives, how willingly would I give them all to Thee for the bliss of knowing, as today I know, that I have helped to make Thee glad.”

Some reflections on this parable:

Jesus Christ is Love in action.  1 John tells us that God is love, and Hebrews says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father.  Whatever Jesus does reveals the heart of the Father.  Jesus does not only talk about love; Jesus acts in love.

What is it to act in love?  I think the ultimate expression of love is to serve others (which may be done in many various ways).

This is the heart of the Father, and Jesus became an empty vessel in order to be filled with the Father’s love.  But He doesn’t hoard that
love for Himself; He becomes a willing channel through which the Father’s love is expressed and distributed.

This is the relationship that the Father and Son have shared for all eternity.  But when Jesus became flesh and blood, He demonstrated for us how love works in reality.  Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others.

Philippians 2 describes the essence of divine love.  Jesus emptied Himself.  He did not enforce the special privilege of His divinity.  Instead He served humbly, and even died on the cross as a sacrifice for us.  No greater love does a man have than this, but to give His
life for another.

I do not believe that Philippians 2 is an isolated event that only pertains to the incarnated Christ.  I believe that Christ’s emptying
of Himself began in eternity past and will go on into eternity’s future.  It is His nature to do this in love.  He continues to do this
today as He pours Himself out into us through the Holy Spirit.

So Christ’s love in us is a self-emptying, self-denying, self-sacrificing love. But to enter into this love, we must lay down
our own will so that His will can be poured out through us.

I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them.” (John 17:26 GNT)

Will you be as the bamboo tree, and become a channel for the Living Waters of divine love?

Please feel free to share your reflections on this parable in the comments…

God’s Favorite Place on Earth

BethanyBelow is the review I posted on Amazon for Frank Viola’s new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth.  This is an excellent book full of practical wisdom.  For information on the book and to see a video trailer and download a free exerpt containing 20% of the book, go to GodsFavoritePlace.com.

I highly recommend Frank Viola’s newest book God’s Favorite Place on Earth. Viola points to the little town of Bethany just a couple of miles from Jerusalem as Jesus’ preferred resting place while He was on earth in human form. Bethany was a place where Jesus was accepted and adored; therefore, Jesus chose to “rest” in Bethany rather than Jerusalem, where He was rejected. Viola pieces together the various stories in the Gospels related to this small town (such as Jesus being anointed by Mary and raising Lazarus from the dead) along with first century history to reconstruct the story through the eyes of Lazarus thirty years after his resurrection. The story is really beautiful and brings the Bible to life – a feat not too common among authors today. Readers will get an insight into first century life, and more importantly, into the life and character of Jesus Christ. Viola follows each segment of the Bethany story with a “Walking it Out” section that provides invaluable and practical insights. These include how to not be offended by others, the value of giving our all to and for Christ, how to deal with suffering and rejection, what to do when God doesn’t seem to respond the way we want, what it means to receive Christ, and more.

God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a short and easy read that accomplishes:

- Bringing the Scriptures to life
- Revealing the height, depth, breadth, and width of Jesus Christ
- Demonstrating how the Holy Spirit is leading Christians to live by Christ’s life today.

Your Actual Identity Part V: Familiar (Mark Lake)

mark:

This article by me was posted today at my friend Michael Young’s blog…

Originally posted on All Things in Christ:

In this installment of the Identity Series, Mark Lake shares on how we are “familiar” with Jesus. I believe you will find this post to be very insightful and edifying.

Mark is a great brother and loves the Lord so much. He has a way of sharing our Lord in very practical, yet very beautiful ways. I suggest you read his blog and subscribe. Read Mark’s blog HERE.

Enjoy!

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Your Actual Identity: Familiar

I’ve noticed recently that in the past few months I haven’t felt as familiar with Christ as I have in the past.  In seeking to spend time with Christ I have mostly resorted to praising Him for His beauty, majesty, generosity, mercy, faithfulness, love, and so on.

Certainly Jesus is all of those things and infinitely more, and there is nothing wrong with telling Him.  But I’ve been using this praise as a substitute for intimacy.

Imagine a…

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Not Judging Others Part 1: Our Opinions Often Cause Misjudgment

I’m starting a (probably short) series dealing with how people tend to view and judge others negatively.  I’ve observed that this can be a very dangerous habit, and unfortunately it is a habit among Christians as well.

I’d like to begin this series by highlighting something that I have found true in my own life: jumping to conclusions based on my opinions (not facts) causes me to misjudge people and situations.

One of the best books I have read on the art of communication is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.  In the book is a chapter titled Observing Without Evaluating which demonstrates the importance of separating what we see (or have direct evidence of) with what our opinion of that thing is.

Here is an excerpt of a poem written by one of Rosenberg’s colleagues, Ruth Bebermeyer, that illustrates this point:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

Rosenberg explains:

Observations are an important element in nonviolent communication, where we wish to clearly and honestly express how we are to another person.  When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message.  Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.

Here’s a couple of examples from the same chapter to make this really practical:

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Doug procrastinates.
Observation without Evaluation:  Doug only studies for exams the night before.

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.
Observation without Evaluation:  Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.

It was very eye opening for me to realize how impulsively and maybe even subconsciously I tend to jump from observation to conclusion or judgment!

Imagine finding that the trash has not been taken out and asking your spouse, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, or “Why don’t you appreciate me?”  Obviously these are assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking.  As Rosenberg points out (and you might guess yourself), this kind of communication makes us sound critical of others.

Instead of saying, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, perhaps one could say, “I noticed that the trash hasn’t been emptied, and you usually take care of it.  Have you had a rough day?”  The latter approach is clearly less judgmental and more loving and invites the other person into expressive communication.  This allows the other person to express themselves without feeling the weight of judgment or criticism, and it keeps us from jumping ahead to faulty conclusions.

As Christians, I think it is clear in the Scriptures and through the Spirit that we are not intended to judge each other in this way.

I’ve found that a good place to start evaluating if you do this yourself is to observe your own attitude and language towards others.  You might even ask those closest to you if you have a habit of doing this.

Can you share an experience or example where this has been true for you?

In part 2, I’ll suggest some potential alternatives to this behavior.