Following His Footsteps: “Highly Intensive Training” – Mark 8:27-9:50

body1I know that most of you will find this shocking, but I have never been a body builder. This picture is not me. In fact, the only muscles that I am fanatical about using and developing beyond my typing finger muscles are those that help me fill my mouth, chew and digest food. I admit it, I am a foodie – and weight gain has been a struggle over the past years. I do know some things about muscle growth – though it is obvious I am not invested in growing them. It isn’t that complicated at all. Muscle building, a therapist friend of mine says, is about consistent, low volume but regular workouts which are based around the universal laws of overload and progression. The fundamentals of strength training make clear that in order to reach goals of increased muscle mass and strength, one should train regularly and then give the muscles adequate rest and proper nutrients. By doing this week after week and increasing the weight or repetitions – the muscles will grow. Body builders also have times of “highly intensive training” to burst to new levels of output and build muscles in an accelerated way.

Disciple making isn’t body building – but it has distinct similarities. As we follow the ministry of Jesus and His Disciples, we see times of intense workouts of a few of them – and this lesson will follow one such short period. It was intense training – so it was intended to be more stark and more powerful – and that is one of the great benefits of carefully studying this time. Don’t get me wrong: Peter won’t look that much more fit after the intense training than he did going into it. At the same time, his experiences were designed to help him grow in critical areas – and the record of them will help us grow in those same places.

Here is the truth that Peter and the boys needed to learn…

Key Principle: We can grow in the work of ministering for Jesus – but we will never be self-sufficient in the role.

We will constantly need God’s direction and sometimes we will require His gentle correction (or, for some of us, a swift kick in the pants). In our study of the portion from the Gospel of Mark for this lesson we encounter a series of “snapshots” of a few disciples who left the record of their failures and lessons in growing to maturity. Careful study of them might save us the pain of the same mistakes.

Pick up your observation of the story of Mark at the scene of the “final exam” of the disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has pulled the men away, and He is having a very important conversation with them.

Graduation Day: Peter gets an answer that seems to separate him from the pack.

The first snapshot is the scene of the examination of the disciples by the Master. Jesus was asking the questions, and the disciples were answering orally – or trying to blend into the background so as to not get called on by the Teacher. Mark recorded:

Mark 8:27 “Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others [say] Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” 29 And He [continued] by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And He warned them to tell no one about Him.”

In the eighties, Americans were still wrestling with the removal of prayer from public education, as secularists pushed hard to get God separated from education in the name of “science”. During that time there was a popular bumper sticker that said: “As long as there are Math tests, there will always be prayer in schools.” Though people have tried to remove any sense of a deity from “smart people” in our society – the fact is that people long to know there is help when they are in trouble. I found an interesting comment by Ravi Zacharias concerning modern man’s recognition of the existence of God – and it made me smile. He reported:

The eminent scientist and atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins was on a radio program in April of 2012 with the Rev. Giles Fraser on Radio 4’s Today in England where he was again “bashing Christians”. He said they were “basically very unintelligent people”. The minister dialoguing with him questioned him on that point. His evidence was simple. He said that if you asked many Christians they couldn’t even tell you an interviewer the proper names of the four Gospels. Rev. Fraser replied: Dr. Dawkins, can you name the full title of the “Origin of the Species” by Darwin? The actual title was: On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life . Dawkins fumbled a bit, and then the preeminent atheist said, “Oh God, I know it is longer than the way we say it…” Funny, even an atheist calls on God to tell him the name of the book that helped him explain away God as Creator! How can you not smile!

Back in the text, Jesus wasn’t dealing with secularists, but with observant, synagogue educated Jews of the first century. They believed in the God of Abraham, and were raised with a Biblical world view – admittedly with some significant additions by rabbis who confused some of the ideals of the Scriptures. When Jesus pulled the men aside, He knew them well – even what they were thinking. John’s Gospel noted that Jesus “knew what was in the heart of man”. Because that is true, we can surmise that He wasn’t asking a question out of some deep inner need to be affirmed, so that He could feel good about Himself. If I asked my closest friends, “What do people say about me?” it would be blatant sign that I was needing to be pumped up and affirmed – but that wasn’t what this record was about in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus wanted the disciples to verbally affirm His position in front of one another– so He could take them to the next level of understanding.

We normally use the term discipleship to refer to the training of believers, those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior and take over their life. In Jesus’ case, the discipleship of His men began before the men understood Who Jesus truly was. If you think about it carefully, in some ways, discipleship still does include this time of discovery. Terms like “pre-evangelism” have been used to describe the hours spent with a man, woman or child that has yet to make the decision to follow Jesus. But in another sense, hardly anyone begins their walk with Jesus recognizing His full identity and much of what a relationship with the Master and Creator truly entails. Most of us decided to follow a Jesus we barely knew, and we didn’t grasp the full depth of that choice until much later – and that isn’t wrong. God opened our hearts and took up residence, and the “learning curve” of the relationship began for us – like a newly married couple learns to be a new family.

Go back to verse twenty-seven (8:27) and you will note that Jesus was very far outside His normal territory; He was finally alone with His disciples. The place Jesus took the men could was a strange area to them – well off the beaten path of the kosher villages near the Sea of Galilee. The area of “Caesarea of Herod Philip” was a highly-developed pagan city with an acropolis (upper city) of pagan temples set on a raised area against a cliff. The city was surrounded by a lush valley in the far north of the country at the southwestern foothills of Mt. Hermon, near the ancient city of Dan (that marked the northern border of Israel in the United and Divided Kingdom periods). The uplifted pagan cultic precinct of the city appeared to extend on a platform out of the rocky face, in front of an in-dented escarpment with a deep cave that could be seen from far away. Both the cave and the acropolis became a sacred precinct with a Temple to Caesar Augustus and a shrine to the god Pan.

Many pagan cities had such an acropolis, but this place was one of a handful of places that had a unique identity. The cave was recognized by ancient pagan worshipers as one of several mystical entrances to the underworld (Hades), where one would enter the abode of the dead and cross the River Styx under the watchful eye of Cerberus, the three-headed dog. The cave shared this identity in ancient society along with the caves near Cumae at the Bay of Naples – where the Cumaen Sibyl told fortunes, another at Cape Matapan on the southern tip of Achaia – where Hercules accessed the underworld in legend, and the Ploutonion (Pluto’s Gate at Hierapolis) – a city Paul mentioned in his letter to the Colossians. In short, this was one of the “gates of hell” in pagan mythology – and that identity was well-known in the time of Jesus.

Don’t skip past the fact that Jesus asked them the most significant question that He ever presented to them – truly the single question they should have been prepared to answer after the last years traveling together. The question was, in essence: “Who am I?” Mark made plain the answer was offered by Peter, who finally got a right answer in the record of the Gospels. Since Mark’s material was likely based on the preaching of Peter much later, the dialogue between Peter and Jesus is much shorter than that found in Matthew 16 where the Gospel recorded:

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Some scholars rightly point out that Jewish use of the term “gates of Hades” appears to be related to the prohibition of observant Jews to be a part of the pagan festivities of the defiled cities. Entering a pagan town was like entering Hades itself. If that is the sense in which Jesus used the terms, verse nineteen (Matthew 16:19) may have offered a prophecy that Peter would be called on to enter the gate of a Gentile city (ironically another city called Caesarea – but at a different location) and offer the Gospel to a Gentile (Cornelius in Acts 10). The phrase “keys of the Kingdom” may have been a reference to the fact that God “unlocked the Gentile world” to the Gospel through the vision of the sheet in Jaffa in that passage in the Book of Acts. At the same time, one cannot help but note that the city was built against a cave that was known as a “gate of Hades” by the Gentiles who lived near it. The ironic truth of the passage is this: Jesus was making plain the open gate to the afterlife with Him passed through a recognition of WHO Jesus is.

Elsewhere, Jesus made plain that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him.” His words were both exclusive and restrictive. He claimed that He is the gate in the wall that separated man from God, sinners from righteousness. Entering the relationship with the God of Abraham can only be accomplished by means of the Door – Jesus Himself. Jesus said “I am the Door”. Here is the truth: Jesus is the gate that made the door of physical death lead to the Father – and not simply to a permanent separation from God. Jesus paid for sin, and when I acknowledge Him as Savior and yield my life to Him, physical death is a move to be in God’s presence, awaiting my permanent home with Him.

Despite the seeming complexity found in the answers to life’s purpose and breadth, the questions that must be faced by each of us at the heart of the meaning of life are exacting and simple: Were we made by a “Being of intelligence” or are we here without any intention by random chance? If we were made by an intelligent Creator, did that Being make only the physical world, or is there a metaphysical existence beyond? If there is a metaphysical existence, is participation automatic or is there any evidence that a Creator Being expressed specific requirements to participate in and enjoy the time after this life? To each question Jesus was clear in His answers as we have them recorded in the Gospels: God created both a physical and spiritual world. Man sinned and was separated from God. God sent a Savior whose payment for sin each man or woman must acknowledge and a Lord to whom each man or woman must submit.

When Peter gave the right answer, Jesus instructed them to keep His identity to themselves, because He wanted to spend more time alone with them, and didn’t want new crowds to form in that place. Several exciting events were yet to unfold. Peter’s pronouncement and Jesus’ encouragement that he would be a “man of promise” for the future seemed to immediately cause a swell of pride within Peter. The story continued…

Owning the Part: Peter “instructs” Jesus on public presentation.

Peter felt like he was singled out as a heir apparent by Jesus – an honored future to which he devoted himself. Mark recorded:

Mark 8:31 “And He [Jesus] 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. 32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Peter passed the final oral exam, and he seemed to do very well! Ironically, just after the story of his promotion to “future leader” the Gospel writers record a story of a public correction of Peter before the same group of disciples. It seems that Peter thought his right answer entitled him to a greater immediate role, and he dove into it! Jesus foretold of His suffering and death, and Peter felt it was an appropriate time to pull Him aside and set Him straight on what He was saying. Have you ever done that?

Don’t be too hard on Pete – this mistake is just one in a long line of them. He meant well. Like many of us, we think that God is great enough to create all things, but He might need our advice as to how to present Himself to people. The God whose name is “Ever Present One” – the NOW God – is often mistakenly viewed by His own people as the God of History and yesterday – but not necessarily “up” on the way things are done today. The Bible presents a God that isn’t stuck in the past and doesn’t sport rotary dial phones in Heaven. He is the God of NOW – always. He knows what people need. He knows how to get the message to them. The resistance of the world is not truly caused by the antiquity of our message – it is caused by the deep-seated rebellion to which men and women relentlessly cling. They don’t have God, because they don’t WANT God.

Jesus explained His coming death and resurrection, and Peter made it clear to Him that was a message that wouldn’t sell. We’ve seen it and heard it many times. Telling people they are LOST without Christ won’t work. Telling people they are SINNERS should be softened – or it will drive people away. Telling people that a righteous God doesn’t fool around with our sensuality nor play around with a sense of the truth probably sounds terribly offensive to the tolerant generation. Yet, truth doesn’t change because it is unpopular, and history is clear that most of the time, most of the people are wrong about how they view things. Jesus told Satan to back off – as He peered at Peter who was spouting nonsensical instructions to the King of Creation.

The words that followed showed Jesus’ insight into what was motivating Peter’s speech. Peter wanted his faith to be about his own satisfaction. Jesus answered that his faith MUST BE about surrender of his life, goals and even personal physical security. He urged Peter in front of the disciples to plan to lay down his life, and not to become embarrassed about Jesus’ coming arrest and death. People that make their life about themselves leave little place to featuring Jesus at the center of their lives – because they take up the whole room. Time after time, the Bible offered models of those who “gave up their lives to God” and were satisfied. It also included ample examples of those who held their own lives tightly and lost the significance of God’s powerful work through them.

The short view of the story is simple: Peter thought that since God was going to make him a significant figure in the future, Jesus needed his counsel in the present. The God Who made man needs no counsel from His Creation on this or any other matter. Arrogant men think their objections should make God change His plan, or at least explain it in ways they can readily understand. God is not under the impression that He needs our vote to run the universe. If that sounds harsh, consider the reality that if it is absolutely true, how it touches our emotions is largely irrelevant. Peter may have thought he was right to correct Jesus – but he learned the hard way.

Grouping Jesus: Peter thought Jesus was One among many.

The correction was immediately followed by another story of failure for poor Pete. Mark recorded in chapter nine:

Mark 9:1 “And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” 2 Six days later, 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; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. 10 They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. 11 They asked Him, saying, “[Why is it] that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And [yet] how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”

The story of the Transfiguration is another story of disciple failure. Jesus guaranteed them a glimpse of the Kingdom and its power, and less than a week later, three of the disciples – Peter, James and John – got the view as promised. They were alone with Jesus, and they were amazed at the sight of Moses, Elijah and Jesus together. The King shone in glory, and former servants came to revere Him. The disciples were amazed, but didn’t really grasp what was happening. They saw Jesus as an amazing and powerful PART of what God was doing.

Peter moved to the front of the three, as he normally did, and offered to honor all three with the same prize – a sukkah (tent) or temporary shrine. He had no idea that His Master was not to be placed on the same plane with other servants of God. God interrupted from Heaven to make the point that no other voice was Jesus’ equal. They needed to really LISTEN to Jesus. They didn’t need to exalt others to be equal – they weren’t equal. Jesus, and His Word are not “one among many”.

The late Father Richard John Neuhaus (Canadian priest) said before his death a few years ago: “The dismal reality is that the church’s native language of sin and grace, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, is in danger of being displaced by the vocabulary of psychology, law and public relations.” The fact is that the Word of God is being increasingly withdrawn in favor of words that seem to hold “reasonable equivalence” in Christian schools of higher learning and now in the very pulpits of our churches across the west. Let me say it clearly: Jesus is not one among many. Today, it is necessary to say it again clearly: God’s Word is not “a truth” among many. Jesus is preeminent and God’s Word presents absolute truth. Nothing is a reasonable facsimile of the truth but the truth and no one is equal to God but God. Jesus spoke, not as a voice among many, but the voice before Whom every other knee shall bow. Peter and the boys blew it again.

Failed Faith Healing: The disciples can’t get the job done!

Pete was having a tough week! He got the right answer concerning the identity of Jesus, but followed it up with two significant failures – cautioning Jesus to change the message and positioning Jesus as One among other “hall of famers” for God. Mark wasn’t done – the record continued, but this time the pressure seemed to shift to other disciples that were also failing. Mark wrote:

Mark 9:14 “When they came [back] to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and [some] scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and [began] running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it slams him [to the ground] and he foams [at the mouth], and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not [do it].” 19 And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he [began] rolling around and foaming [at the mouth]. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and [the boy] became so much like a corpse that most [of them] said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into [the] house, His disciples [began] questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

A careful look at the verses reminds us that Jesus had only a few of the disciples, and He left the others for a time. When Peter, James, John and Jesus returned from the Transfiguration, they came upon a disappointed family, some embarrassed disciples and some argumentative scribes. The disciples were obviously out of their depth, and Jesus stepped in to rescue them.

Jesus began by asking what the trouble was all about. A man who brought his son to be healed made clear the disciples couldn’t pull off the healing. Jesus then healed the boy. In the exchange with the man before the boy’s healing, He made clear that He was not wondering of His own ability to do the work – regardless of the failure of the disciples. Jesus commanded the demon, and the demon obeyed. After the event, the disciples were obviously unsure of what they did wrong. Jesus offered a single word they missed: “Prayer”. They tried “command” but not “prayer”. Why not? The air was filled with the perfume of the self-sufficient, and the disciples went into the exchange believing they could follow what they had seen Jesus do, and what worked for them when Jesus sent them out empowered – but this time it didn’t work. Transformation of people isn’t like running a franchise or painting by numbers – it is a work of God performed in His power by those who feel entirely unable to do anything apart from His hand at work through them. God seeks those who know they cannot but believe that HE can.

Correcting the Failed Followers: Jesus offers some gentle instruction.

It was disheartening, I am certain, for the disciples to fail in public – but it was a warning to pay closer attention in the coming days. Jesus told them about His coming death and resurrection yet again (9:30-32). The point of recalling this in the text we are studying is simple: Jesus was telling them He wasn’t going to be around forever – so they needed to learn what they could while they could. Mark shared:

Mark 9:30 “From there they went out and [began] to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know [about it]. 31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they did not understand [this] statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

Ironically, it doesn’t appear the disciples really grasped what Jesus was saying at all. They were confused, but they also continued to act out in ways that were not what Jesus taught them. The disciples argued about self-importance, but were embarrassed because they knew the whole discussion wasn’t right (Mark 9:33-37).

Mark 9:33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He [began] to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which [of them was] the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Jesus sat a child in front of them and make clear that they needed to listen and obey the way a child does. They needed to trust that He knew what He was saying, when He told them SERVANTHOOD was their true calling.

I cannot prove it, and I must be careful, but I have a sneaky suspicion that what caused the argument was the memory of the time at the region of Caesarea Philippi some weeks before when Peter was told that he would be a key to the future of the work. How could it be otherwise? I think it is highly likely that the pronouncement left some bitter taste of jealousy in some of the other men – another sign of self-sufficiency. Disciples aren’t supposed to be jealous, but that is a common side effect of those not relying on God’s empowering.

If you keep reading Mark’s account, you find disciples BECOMING DEFENSIVE about what others are doing – yet another sign of those followers of Jesus who set out on their own path – and were not relying on the work of the Spirit of God. The offended disciples “defended Jesus” by shutting others who were not part of the group down! Mark recorded (9:38-41):

Mark 9:38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 “For he who is not against us is for us. 41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as [followers] of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

The grammar is not wholly clear, but it appears the men felt that anyone who wanted to represent Jesus needed to travel with their group. How many a denomination has made the same claim in the generations since Jesus! Disciples out of step with God feel like they need to protect God’s reputation and keep things carefully controlled. They don’t need to worry; God is able to keep the ship from sinking. A defensive spirit is often a side dish to piping hot jealousy.

The snaphots close in a passage where Jesus was remembered as offering some teaching. Three specific areas are recalled at the end of the chapter:

First, Jesus addressed their reputation. They needed to be careful about how their testimony could affect those who observe them and follow them. If they allowed something, those who followed them would easily allow it as well. If they abused something, those who followed them would also themselves be abused by their faulty lifestyle. Jesus said it this way:

Mark 9:42″Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

Second, Jesus addressed their rebellion. They needed to be careful about continuing behaviors that harmed their walk, and starved their yieldedness to God. It is easy to be distracted by some desire and feed a rebellion against God. Nothing is worth dishonoring God in a disciple’s behavior! Jesus said:

Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]. 45″If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]. 47 “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

Third, Jesus addressed their relationship with one another. He warned the men that they must work hard at standing together. Troubles would come that would easily divide them – but they needed each other. They needed to recognize the value of loyalty and do their best to keep the lines of communication and love open. When dirt and contamination is allowed into the disciple relationships, it becomes nearly impossible to get back the bonding and continue together. Jesus said it this way:

Mark 9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty [again]? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Our world doesn’t think like the Master Who created it. In fact, the lost world celebrated self-sufficiency with ideals like: “Blessed are the movers and the shakers, the successful, the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the self-confident.” Jesus celebrated the broken who found their completion in Him. Charles Spurgeon was reported to have once said, “Our imaginary goodness is harder to conquer than our sinful behaviors.” Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1 and again in verse four (3:4): “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, more than lovers of God.” Do you find that hard to believe? I don’t! Most of us realize that man has no difficulty loving self; his real problem is truly loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength – enough to follow Him. That is true of Christians as well.

That is tough news, I know. Even as we grow, we must remain open to God’s continued work in us. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring! This little reminder made me smile:

A doctor called one of his patients into his office to deliver some very important news. “I have received the results of your tests and I have some bad news and some good news”, said the doctor. The patient was quiet for a moment, sensing the severity of the announcement. “Let me have the good news first, doc”, said the patient. The doctor took a deep breath and said, “You only have 24 hours to live.” “Oh my goodness”, shouted the patient, “If that’s the good news what could the bad news possibly be?” The doctor replied, “I was supposed to tell you yesterday.”

We need God at work in us daily. We need to need God daily, and know that we need God daily… We can grow in the work of ministering for Jesus – but we will never be self-sufficient in the role.