Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

Strength For Life’s Struggles

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
{Mark 9:2-9, NRSV}

This week I was doing some reading when one of the author’s statements really caught my attention. He wrote that most of us do not really live our lives. Instead we let life live us.
He put it this way:
“Most of us wake up in the morning and go through the same routine we did the day before because that’s just the way it is. Some of it is habit, but much more of it is mindlessness. We do what we do because it’s what we do…We take the path of least resistance. We end up in the jobs we end up with, rather than pursuing the dreams God gave us…It’s so much easier to just ‘be’ than it is to be different…If you want to live life rather than letting it live you, then you’re going to have to make the time to reflect on what you did today, and you’ll have to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next. When you do…you’ll begin to choose the important over the urgent. You’ll find the time to ponder the ultimate question, to really ponder it and refine the answer.”

When the author writes that most people do not really live our lives, but let life live us, he is on to something. Most of us really do get up every day and do the same things that we did the day before, and the day before that…until we the day comes when we no longer get up again.
What if the author is right…that most of us spend our whole lives living for the urgent over the important?
There is a big difference between living life and letting life live us. One is a full on dedication to a specific destiny. The other is simply drifting along from one day to the next until there are no more days.
Last summer (July 2008) my family did something we had never done before. We went white water rafting on the Nantahala River in the North Carolina mountains. While it is true that we all paddled nearly non-stop for close to 3 hours on the river, and we did travel the better part of 10 miles that day, it should also be said that we really just let the river’s current carry us down the river, through the rapids, until it dumped us out at the pick up site. We paddled hard to get where we ended up, but the truth is, we would have gotten to the same spot even if we had not paddled at all.
On the van ride back up the river to our vehicle, I noticed an unoccupied raft making it’s way down the river. I surmised that the people who had started out on it had fallen out somewhere up river. I suppose that this unoccupied raft was probably going to make it to the pick up site even with no one in it at all.
But we did see some people who were experienced in white water rafting. They were paddling with purpose. They were not just drifting down the river, some were even paddling up the river, against the current. These people knew what they were doing, they knew where they were going, and they knew what they had to do to get there.
On the river that day I saw first hand that most people are drifting through life, and only a few are actually paddling toward a preferred destination.
Someone once wrote, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”

In the book, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, there is this exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat on the side of the road. Alice asks the Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
From this conversation between Alice and the Cat an important axiom for life has been derived:
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

So you are sitting there today saying, “I don’t want to drift through life. I don’t want life to live me. I want to live life to the fullest. What do I have to do?”
The answer, I think, was well put by author Stephen Covey.

1) To reach our destiny: begin with the end in mind.
Does that make sense?
To “begin with the end in mind” means that we know where we are headed. We know what the destination looks like. And even though we may not know all the twists and turns of the journey still in front of us, we keep our eyes focused on the goal, and we let nothing deter us from reaching it.
To “begin with the end in mind” means “I know where I am, and I know where I am going, and I am not going to let anything between here and there stop me from my destiny. “
It is this sense of destiny that gives us the strength we need to face and overcome the struggles of life.

In The Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, we see in the life of Jesus, what it means to “begin with the end in mind.”

In the days to follow this episode, Jesus will experience a number of significant challenges:
He will face distractions that could derail His destiny.
He will be personally attacked and criticized.
He will be falsely accused of wrongdoing.
He will be betrayed by a trusted colleague.
He will be abandoned by His friends.
He will experience intense pain and suffering.
He will be arrested, tried, convicted, and punished.
He will die an agonizing death.

But in spite of all these challenges standing in His way, Jesus will accomplish everything He came to do, and will achieve a victory that will impact and influence our world forever.
To prepare for the challenges that He will face in the days to come, Jesus takes three of His closest friends and colleagues, Peter, James, and John, and leads them up to the top of a high mountain, “apart” the Bible says. It is a time for Jesus and the three to get some distance from the daily challenges, and to get some perspective and direction for the days ahead.
While up on this mountain, Jesus has a profound experience. He is “transfigured.” The word in Greek means “metamorphosis.” In a moment, Jesus is transformed and revealed to His disciples in His true glorious nature. Then Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and talk to Him. If all of that were not enough, a cloud begins to overshadow them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

So what are we to think about this experience?
It is the meaning of “begin with the end in mind.”
Just before this mountain top experience, Jesus told His disciples for the first time what the future held for Him. He told them

“the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31, NRSV)

Upon hearing such unexpected news, the disciples did not know what to think. Peter for one, refused to believe or accept such a future for Jesus.
In order to help them come to terms with what lies ahead, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, with Him to the top of a mountain where Jesus spends time connecting with God.
It is there that Jesus is seen, not as one crucified on a cross, or laid in a tomb, but in glory, God’s eternal glory. Peter, James, and John see Jesus in His ultimate destiny, risen, alive, in glory, not as a crucified martyr, but as the conquering King and Lord of all!
Jesus goes to the mountain top to spend time in the presence of God; to clarify once more where He is headed in the days to come, and what the ultimate outcome will be.
That brings up a second thought:

2) It is God’s revelation that gets us through our present reality.
Before Him is a journey in which Jesus will be humiliated
hated,
rejected,
mistreated, and
murdered.

The strength Jesus will need to face and endure these upcoming challenges is given to Him in this moment of transfiguration.
For a few moments, Jesus experiences a foretaste of what is coming on the other side of the struggle, the cross, and the grave.
It is the time we spend with God on the mountain that helps us make sense of life in the valley. Without the time on the mountain top, we will not have the strength for the times in the valleys.

Bible scholar, N.T. Wright says: “The mountain-top explains the hill-top – and vice versa. [In other words, transfiguration explains the cross. The cross explains the transfiguration…] Perhaps we only really understand either of them when we see it side by side with the other. Learn to see the glory in the cross; learn to see the cross in the glory…”

Jesus goes to the mountain top, and in the presence of God, He experiences afresh the revelation of God upon His life. It is a time of realignment and refocus on the purpose of God. From time to time, the alignment in my vehicle gets off, and causes the vehicle to drift to one side or the other, instead of staying straight in the lane. Realignment helps keep the vehicle operating on course.
The mountaintop was a time for Jesus, and the disciples to check their alignment and their focus for the challenges ahead.
Jesus knew the reality. He was on a journey to Jerusalem, where He would suffer and die upon a cross. It was the revelation, the time spent with God, the transfiguration that would give Him the resources to face the challenges ahead and persevere through them.
Perseverance comes from perspective.
When you know where you are headed, and you know you have the resources to get there, you can withstand and overcome the difficulties along the way.
You and I need regular times apart from the challenges of daily life. We need times of worship, study, and reflection, to experience the revelation of God for our lives. It is the direction and strength we need, for the reality of the life we face.

3) Reality: There will be valleys. Revelation: God’s word will guide us through them.

The transfiguration is a revelation of the final destiny of Jesus:
He is transformed,
He is glorified,
He is acclaimed by the voice of God as the Beloved Son of God.
He is confirmed as the One in whom we need to listen.

Every time we face a reality in life, we need to be reminded of God’s revelation.

Reality: Jesus will be lifted up on a cross.
Revelation: Jesus will be raised even higher than the cross and seated on the glorious throne of God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Reality: There is Good Friday.
Revelation: There is Easter Sunday (Mark 9:9).

Reality: Weeping may last for the night.
Revelation: Joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5b).

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:4, Jesus was “crucified in weakness, yet lives by God’s power.”

The transfiguration of Jesus has some important truths to teach us:
Beyond every hurt, there is healing.
Beyond every defeat, there is victory.
Beyond every ending, there is a new beginning.
Beyond every death, there is new life.

Whatever we encounter, we will overcome.
No matter what we face, we will make it through.

After the vision ends, the word remains: “Listen to Him!”

When the glory of the mountaintop fades, it is the word of God that will get you through the valley.
It is the revelation that enables us to face and overcome life’s reality.

One author writes:
“Earthly life cannot be all heavenly visions. Sometimes the memory fades… The words of our Lord remain constant, however. One must continue to listen to Jesus, whose words are able to sustain us when tingling visionary moments have grown dim.”

Do you know what your destiny is?
Our destiny is intertwined with the destiny of Jesus, if we are disciples of Jesus. Our destiny is the glory beyond the difficulties, just as Jesus has experienced.
The Bible says, “Christ in you is the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Do you have a revelation from God, and God’s Word, that will sustain you through the reality of life that you are facing?
Do you know God’s plan and purpose for your life?
Do you know what it takes to get through what you face to reach your ultimate destiny?
Regular times spent with Jesus, to do what God tells us to do: “listen to him!”

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