Saturday, December 15, 2012

Overcoming Evil With Good

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well...

This morning I woke up with a depressed feeling.  As I remembered the horrific tragedy of those who lost their lives in a Connecticut elementary school, my heart was broken and angry.  The unspeakable evil that invaded a classroom of children is something I don't want to believe actually happened.  But sadly, it did, and this isn't the first time human beings have terrorized others, and it won't be the last.  I didn't want to get out of bed.  'What's the point of going on in this evil world?' I thought.  I'm so sick of evil, tragedy, and seeing others having to endure such horror and pain.

But as I was lying there, I began to think about what I had to do today.  What did I have to get up for?  Yes, this world is plagued by evil every day, but there is also a lot of goodness: many blessings in my life to live for, many ways to bless others and bring goodness to their hearts and lives.

In the Bible, Paul tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  God has given us His Spirit to possess these qualities of the heart that bring a lot of goodness to this world.  Against such things there is no law, he says.  This fruit of the heart not only exists, but it can abound in us.

I thought about what I had to do today: care for my children and have a lazy Saturday with them--they need that. I needed it, and the opportunity was before me.  I also had some "work" to do.  I have a new book coming out I needed to print.  This is not really work for me.  It's a joy--an opportunity to use the gifts God has given me to teach, encourage, and inspire others.  I needed to add the new book to my website for those who are waiting for its release, and I needed to make copies for those I gift books to this time of year.

And I had a blog to write to remind myself of the good God has given me to do and to remind you of the good you can do for the children and adults you care for, help, teach, comfort, and bring happiness.  Paul tells us to not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give we have opportunity let us do good to all people. (Gal. 6:9-10)

In his letter to the Roman Christians, people who were no strangers to the evil of their generation, he said, God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.  So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you.  If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well.  If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching.  If your gift is to encourage others, do it!  If you have money, share it generously.  If God has given you leadership ability, take it seriously.  And if you have a gift of sharing kindness to others, do it gladly.  Don't just pretend you love others.  Really love them.  Hate what is wrong.  Stand on the side of good.  Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.  Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Be glad for all God is planning for you.  Be patient in trouble, and always be prayerful.  When God's children are in need, be the one to help them out. (Rom. 12: 6-13 NLT)

So I got up today, and I was a mom.  I also printed and bound books for those I know will be blessed by the story and message of hope, seeking God's best, living in His presence, receiving His love, and living in a way that will bring blessings to their lives.  I prayed for those who are hurting today.  I thanked those who had blessed me in a specific way.  I let a gentleman go ahead of me in line at the grocery store because he seemed to be in a hurry.

I cannot do anything to change the events of yesterday, nor the evils that will likely take place tomorrow, but I did the good I can do today.  I pray you will do the same however you have the opportunity to do so.  In your home, community, church, local school, and however far your world goes.  God has given you His Spirit for that purpose.  Those who died in that school did not live in vain.  Those children brought a lot of goodness to this world during their short time here: to their families, teachers, and classmates.  The teachers and other school workers were doing what they had been called to do in making a difference in the lives of children and in many other ways we may never hear about.  We can honor their memory by doing the same.  We can live today and bring goodness to those around us.  And we can do it well.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 (Romans 12:21)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

God's Dream For You

"Cheer up, Zion! For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you."  Zephaniah 3:16

God is a dreamer.  He has BIG plans and BIG dreams.  He doesn't give up easily, and He never gives up for good.  I wouldn't say that all of His dreams come true, but that doesn't stop Him from dreaming them.  And He's not afraid to share His dreams.  

I've been reading things in the Old Testament lately, specifically during the time prior to the people of Judah being exiled to Babylon and returning to Israel seventy years later.  God delivers two types of prophecy through His messengers.  First He lays out the dream: The way He wants things to be.  The way it could be if everyone listens to His instructions and is obedient to His ways.  Many of these passages are familiar to us in a "heavenly future" sense.  Like God is talking about something that isn't possible on this earth but will magically happen in His "heavenly" Kingdom.  Things to give us hope for after this life is over, but not something to expect before then.

The other type of prophecy falls into the category of what happens because no one listens.  Warnings about what's coming if the disobedience continues.  And it's horrible stuff.  Things that certainly should give the people the incentive to change their ways, but for the most part, they don't.  But even these "doomsday" prophecies aren't the final word.  God doesn't end the story there.  He says, 'Yes, these horrible things will happen, but "The LORD Almighty has not forsaken Israel and Judah.  He is still their God, even though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel." (Jer. 51:5)  "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel.  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  For the LORD will remove his hand of judgement and will disperse the armies of your enemy.  And the LORD himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!  At last your troubles will be over, and you will fear disaster no more." (Zeph. 3:14-15)

We see these things happening later too.  Not in an "afterlife" way, but in an earthly kingdom way.  God speaks to the kings of Persia after they conquer the Babylonians, and the Persian kings set God's people free to go back to their homeland.  In fact, they give the freed exiles everything they need to return and rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem!  The new generations return and rebuild the Temple and enjoy a time of peace in their land as some of their ancestors who followed God.

The best way to describe the way God functions during this time is this: "Let's try this again.  Same rules as before.  Same promises as before.  Same warnings as before.  Same choice as before: Listen and live; Don't listen and...But I really want you to listen!"

I was thinking today about what happens when Jesus comes on the scene.  The last report we have about the people of Israel is they have rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem to protect the city and the rebuilt Temple, and the people are living in obedience to God.  400 years pass before Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  Israel is now under the rule of the Romans and the Jews are facing oppression.  The current king of Israel is not a God-fearing man, the religious leaders are corrupt and placing heavy burdens on the people, the poor and needy are "like sheep without a shepherd".  (Mark 6:34)

From God's promise of prosperity and peace for the ones who obey, we know this generation was falling short.  They were on a dangerous course leading to eventual destruction and exile, but before that can happen, God intervenes, not only with a promise of salvation if they turn things around, but a means of salvation even if they don't.  This is new.  This is God saying, "Let's not go through all that again.  I know where this is headed, and I'm going to step in.  This Temple and this city are going to fall again, but before that happens, I'm going to give the people a new way to return to the Promised Land and remain forever secure.  Not with their righteousness, but with Mine.  With My love, My mercy, and My grace, I will rescue them.

Jesus comes to share the good news. "Change your thinking!  God's got a new plan.  A new dream.  A new covenant!  You are headed in the wrong direction, but still, the Kingdom is near.  In fact, it's here among you.  Cheer up, Zion!  Don't be afraid!  For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you.  He is a mighty savior.  He will rejoice over you with great gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will exult over you by singing a happy song." (Zeph. 3:16-17)

The gospels tell us that Jesus proclaimed the good news to all the towns and villages in Israel, from Jerusalem to Galilee to his hometown of Nazareth.  He raised up disciples to travel with him and sent them out to share the message too.  He backed up His credibility by healing the sick and driving out demons.  He told stories of hope and shared His dream of this new Kingdom.  God's Kingdom.  A place of prosperity and rest and love and peace.  A perpetual life-altering, heart-altering Kingdom.  

Forty years later, Jerusalem and the Temple fall once again.  The Jewish Nation at large: the kings, priests, and many of the people were living in rebellion to God, and they were driven away from their land into exile just like their ancestors.  Since that time, 2000 years later, the Temple has never been rebuilt.  But it doesn't need to be.  God's dream went beyond a Promised Land and a Temple City.  It went beyond a place where people could worship Him, be in His Presence, and live in peace and prosperity.  A country is no longer necessary.  A building is irrelevant.  A Holy City is no longer a physical earthly location on a map.  

It's a heart-thing now.  It's wherever you are.  The prophecy given in Zephaniah has taken on new meaning.  God dreamed a bigger dream, and it comes true for those who cheer up, fear no more, and rest secure in His love.  Not "someday" but today.

Are you living the dream?

"I have set the LORD always before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (Psalm 16:8, 9, 11; NIV)

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are You Listening?

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now hear.  But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth.”  John 16:12-13

How many people do you know who are willing to tell you everything about them?  Every detail.  Every failure.  Every hope.  Every dream.  Every piece of truth there is?  And, if by some miracle you can actually name someone, every detail is glorious?

Everyone has faults.  Everyone has moments in their life they would prefer to erase.  Bad choices.  Moments of disobedience.  Times of failure.  It’s part of the human condition.  Our sin nature that none of us are immune to.

But the Good News is Jesus came to bring forgiveness, healing, grace, and hope.  God, in His mercy and kindness toward us, forgives us and is able to transform us into people who are able to live above our human nature by the power of His Spirit living within us.

In John 16, Jesus speaks extensively about the Spirit.  He calls Him the Counselor, the Spirit of truth.  His role is to convict us of sin, teach us righteousness, and remind us the prince of this world (satan) has been condemned.  Living by the Spirit is a powerful way to live, and Paul tells us living by the Spirit will produce much fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Jesus also tells us something else about the Spirit.  In John 16:13, He says, “When the Spirit of Truth comes he will guide you in ALL truth.  He will not speak on His own, He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is to come.”

Jesus says the words of the Spirit will bring glory to Him and be the very words of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, Paul says it this way: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us through His Spirit.’

How exciting is that!  We can hear what God has to say to us, and He wants to tell us everything about Himself.  He doesn’t want to keep any secrets from us.  He has nothing to hide.  No dark corners.  No skeletons in the closet.  He is glorified when He reveals Himself and speaks the truth, because He is glorious!  He has good things to say.  Things we need to know and understand.  Things about ourselves He wants to bring out in the open so there can be forgiveness and healing.  Things about His heart that will cause us to love Him because He is lovable.

He is love.  He is mercy.  He is truth.  He is grace.  He is holy.  And when we listen and believe and obey, we see how glorious He is.

When we listen.  I think we often live as if we’re waiting for God to speak to us.  And sometimes we must wait for specific guidance and answers to our prayers.  But more often, we’re simply not listening.  He’s declaring His love, but we turn a deaf ear and feel worthless.  He’s telling us what’s right, but we think our own idea and way is better and we make the wrong choice that brings pain.  He asks us to trust Him but we waste our time, energy, and money to chart our own course and take care of ourselves.  He offers wisdom, but we realize too late we never took the time to listen.  He’s trying to teach us something through a difficult circumstance, but we never ask, ‘What are You trying to teach me, Lord?’  We’re being too loud with our whining and complaining and blaming to ever hear why God is trying to get our attention.

In Jeremiah 31, God talks about a new covenant He will make with His people.  He says, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.”  Jesus talked about this covenant when He spoke of the Holy Spirit.

You don’t have to wait for a prophet, rabbi, or pastor to speak to you.  You don’t have to wait for Sunday to hear what God has to say.  You don’t even have to crack open your Bible or wait for one of my epic blogs...or someone truly great.  He will speak to you through His Word when you read it, and He will speak to you through others at times, but if that’s the only way you listen, that limits how much He can say and how much of His glory He can reveal.

Don’t miss a thing.  God speaks TO YOU.  Listen.

“I am the LORD your God who teaches you what is good and leads you along the paths you should follow.” Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Power of Faith

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone.  But the crowd heard where he was headed and followed by land from many villages.  Matthew 14:13 (NLT)

Despair is a powerful emotion.  We've all been in that place of hearing difficult news and feeling overcome with shock, disbelief, grief, and hopelessness.  Jesus had such a moment when he heard about the gruesome death of John: his cousin, partner in ministry, and prophet of God.  John had prepared the way for Jesus' arrival.  John had faithfully followed God's call on his life, and now, like many prophets before him, he was dead.  An innocent, holy man of God was brutally murdered at the wish of a bitter wife, a thoughtless daughter, and a spineless king.

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself...

Jesus was popular at this point in His ministry.  Word had gotten around of His power to heal and His amazing teachings, and rumors were flying that He was the Messiah, the one who had come to save them.  To be alone, Jesus had to make a deliberate point to do so.  He had to have a plan.  He couldn't wander off and disappear.  Someone would see Him and He would be followed.  He managed to make it to a boat and set sail, but there was a crowd waiting for Him on the other side.

We know from other accounts of this time that Jesus wasn't actually alone.  His disciples were with Him.  They had just returned from a mission trip to teach about the nearness of God's Kingdom, to heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. (Matt. 10:5-15).  The disciples had returned to tell Jesus all they had done, and Jesus was ready for some solitude after being rather busy Himself--and hearing some difficult news.

We don't know what Jesus did during those hours before they made it to the remote area on the other side of the sea.  We don't know how much time He had.  We don't know what He thought about, what prayers He prayed, what He said to His disciples, if He took a nap, or what His state of mind was.  We know from other times Jesus slipped away from the crowds that He used that time to pray, teach His disciples, and rest.  He probably did all three.  

If Jesus made a deliberate point to seek what He needed for a difficult, heart-wrenching situation, how much more do we need to do the same?

I spent some time last week in a peaceful place.  I went to my childhood home to visit with my large family.  I was there with my three kids, and a lot of us were there at various moments, but I found some time to be alone with the beauty and peacefulness of the country setting surrounding me.  Alone with God, Bible on my lap, pen in hand, writing out verses and thoughts and prayers in my journal as I often do.  God met me there in a unique way as I read about Jesus hearing the horrible news about John and going off by Himself.  

I imagined what Jesus may have done during that time, and I wrote out some ideas, but it wasn't until I read the next part of the story I could see what one of the results of this alone-time was.  At first it seems interruptive, as if His plan didn't work.  He wanted to be alone, He wanted his disciples to rest, but a large crowd was waiting for Him on the other side.  But as I read what Jesus did, I came to a different conclusion.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

Jesus had a good reason to send them away.  They needed food and He could probably use some rest from the long day and more time alone to cope with His grief.  But He didn't.  I think Jesus was reminded of a few things on the boat ride over.  He may have been feeling weary, defeated, heartbroken, and hopeless in the darkness of a tragic event, but He chose to believe what was true: He could continue on with His ministry despite difficult circumstances.  He couldn't stop now.  His disciples had accomplished some great things, and He had more to teach them.  They needed to believe in the work they still had to do and the power they possessed to accomplish it.

Jesus told the disciples they could feed the people.  They didn't believe they could, so He did it.  He took the little food they had and multiplied it to feed the thousands who were there.  I wonder why they doubted in their ability to do the same?  Hadn't they just returned from a great ministry tour of teaching, healing, and seeing God's power flow through them?  What happened to their faith?

Perhaps they weren't thinking about Jesus' words that way.  They were only thinking about the regular way to get food, not imagining it could happen supernaturally.  Sometimes when things seem completely impossible to us we are more likely to say, 'Okay, this can only happen with God's power,' and we put our faith in Him.  We have no other choice.  But when we know there are other ways, we fall back on the logical way of getting things done.

Jesus could have done the logical thing and sent the people to find food for themselves.  But He didn't.  He put His faith completely in God's power to do the impossible.  He wanted His disciples to do the same.  He wants me to do the same. When Jesus tells me I have the power to do something, no matter how impossible it seems, I can believe Him!

Difficult circumstances cannot stop me.  Pain, confusion, weariness, despair, lack of resources or skill--these are not roadblocks, they are an opportunity for me to exercise greater faith.  And greater faith yields greater results.  

"You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Jesus always welcomes my faith.  He never says, 'No, you can't do that.  It's impossible.'  He only questions my doubt.

You may have a good reason for being in despair.  You may feel overwhelmed with difficult circumstances or a task that is too great.  You may need to have some time to yourself.  You may need to have some time with God.  You may need to rest awhile.

But don't doubt your ability to carry on.  Don't give up.  Don't stop meeting the needs of others and having compassion.  Don't stop sharing the truth.  Don't stop doing what God has called you to do.  Have faith in who He is and in who He has made you to be.  Have faith to do great things.

I pray that from his glorious unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit...By his mighty power at work within us , he is able to accomplish infinitely more that we would ever dare to ask or hope.  Ephesians 3:16,20 (NLT)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reality Check: Truth vs. Lies

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I publicly proclaim bold promises...I did not tell the people of Israel to ask me for something I did not plan to give.  I, the LORD, speak only what is true and right.”  Isaiah 45:18-19

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do, or been called a liar when you were telling the truth?  If you have, you know how much the false accusations of others can sting.  It’s an interesting jumble of emotions.  On the one hand you’re angry and know others are lying, but on the other, you’re left with a shameful feeling, like you actually did something wrong even though you didn’t.  

I had this happen to me recently, and I’ve had it happen in the past.  It’s painful.  It leaves me feeling hurt and violated.  It puts me in a position of having to defend myself with no real way of doing so.  It’s my word against a liar.  It’s the truth verses the skewed thinking, or evil intent, of someone else.

I was comforted this week by some strong words Jesus speaks in Matthew 12:34.  He is speaking to the Pharisees and says, “You brood of snakes!  How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?  For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”  His words point out an important truth: even though evil words are spoken against me, the evil is not in my heart, but rather in those who accuse me of it.  And Jesus knows exactly how I feel.

Jesus was often confrontational with the religious elite of the day, but speaking harsh words to them was uncharacteristic of His usual, more subtle way of directing them toward spiritual truth.  He often used stories or illustrations or questions designed to make them think about how they were living.  But to call them a “brood of snakes” was telling them exactly how He felt!

I wondered why, and as I looked back to what had led Him to make this statement, I saw it stemmed from the Pharisees falsely accusing Jesus of something.  In Matthew 12:22, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The people are amazed and begin to wonder if Jesus is the Messiah.  I can imagine Jesus having a feeling of elation and joy because their eyes were being opened, and Jesus wanted nothing more for them.  He wanted them to have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of God’s kingdom arriving among them.

But then the Pharisees start mumbling and rain on His parade.  “No wonder he can cast out demons, he gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”


I can feel His heart breaking.  For these prestigious, religious men to not recognize Him as the Messiah is one thing.  But to actually call Him a servant of Satan?  A liar sent on a mission from the father of lies?  

At first His argument is logical.  He points out the error of their thinking.  “Any kingdom at war with itself is doomed.”  Their theory didn’t hold water and He points this out to them.  “A tree is identified by its fruit.”  Good fruit comes from a good tree.  Bad fruit comes from a bad tree.

They were aware of all the good He was doing, yet they accuse Him of being evil at heart.  In contrast, Jesus knew the no-good they were up to and how their actions were proof of what was really going on inside their hearts: Just a bunch of religious piety, not true faith.

This is where He lets the words fly and turns the tables on them.  “You brood of snakes!”  He goes beyond saying they are simply mistaken or aren’t thinking clearly--something forgivable.  He calls what they are doing “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”.  They were speaking against the truth.  They were calling God a liar.

I’d like to be able to say I have never done this, but I can’t.  I know how much it hurts to be falsely accused.  I know the heartbreak of being called a liar when I’m only speaking the truth.  But I’ve done the same thing to God many times.  Every time I doubt Him.  Every time I don’t believe His promises.  Every time I choose to go my own way instead of taking the path of goodness.

Do you have a reason to doubt God right now?  You may think you do, but you don’t because God doesn’t lie.  Whatever He has promised, you can believe Him.  Be still and know that He is God.

*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 18, 2012

But as for me...

"But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD.  I wait for God my Savior.  My God will hear me."  (Micah 7:7)

I came across this verse the other day, and I was encouraged and inspired by Micah's faith.  Micah was a prophet of God who was living during a time of despair in Israel.  Things were so bad, he warns against trusting even family and close friends. "What misery is mine!" he says.  "The godly have been swept from the land."  Micah was feeling alone.  He was starving for good things to happen and for good people to rise up among all the corruption and violence taking place in Israel.  

Then he speaks these words: "But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD.  I wait for God my Savior.  My God will hear me."  He goes from misery to hope in three sentences.  In three statements of faith his outlook is transformed, and he goes on to talk about the faithfulness of God.  He realizes if he wants things to change, he needs to start with himself.

"Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light."

If you're anything like me, you know faith can be a daily battle.  I know what is true.  I know what God has said.  I know He loves me and will meet all of my needs.  I know He is my hope and my salvation.  I know He is always faithful.  But still, I fall.  I forget.  I doubt.  I often find myself sitting in the darkness of despair and misery instead of the light of truth: I am loved.  I am blessed.  I am safe.  I am forgiven.  

The words of faith Micah speaks follow some words Jesus quotes from Micah in Matthew 10:35-36. Jesus is talking to his disciples about what they are going to face as He sends them out among the "lost sheep" of Israel.  He sends them to proclaim the message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'  He says some will receive them and their message and some will not.  He warns them they may end up in some sticky situations, but not to worry because they won't be alone.  "What I tell you in the dark," he says, "speak in the daylight.  What is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs." (v. 27)  I wonder if that's what happened to Micah.  Did the Spirit of God whisper in his ear when he was sitting there in the darkness of his misery and despair?  ("My kingdom is near.  Get your eyes off of what's going on around you, Micah, and watch for Me.  Wait for Me.  Pray, I'm listening.")

Jesus tells his disciples they will face conflict, just as Micah did in his day.  And that conflict may hit close to home..."a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...a man's enemies will be the members of his own household..." But I think what Jesus was trying to say is this: Conflict is not your enemy.  You are.  Your doubt.  Your unbelief.  Your need to be in control instead of letting go. 

"But as for me," Micah says, "I watch in hope for the Lord."  When he found himself in the darkness, he chose to look up.  He chose to have hope.  He chose to believe.  And from then on he proclaims the goodness of God and asks God to do great things among the people.  God's response:

"As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders." (Micah 7:15)

I believe "wonderful" things happen every day.  But we won't see them if we're not looking.  Watch for them.  Wait with hope.  Believe the kingdom of heaven is near.  Rise up and proclaim the goodness of the Lord; first to yourself, and then to "the lost" around you.

Remind Me Who I Am (Music Video)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Go Wake Up Jesus!

"You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Matthew 8:20

Peter was watching the sky.  He didn't like what he saw.  The sea had been calm when they started out, and he thought Jesus' idea to go to the other side would be all right.  Jesus hadn't said why He wanted to go, but he was learning when Jesus said, "Let's go," it was better to go along than make up excuses.  It had been all right so far, this following Jesus thing.  Jesus had a lot of interesting things to say.  He didn't understand everything and some of it seemed a little far-fetched, but he'd seen some pretty crazy stuff and everywhere they went people flocked around Jesus.  Sometimes Peter felt like telling them to all go away and give the man some peace, but Jesus never seemed to mind healing another person or the whole town if need be.  Peter was along for the ride most days, listening to what Jesus said and contemplating these new ideas and teachings.  He'd never heard anybody talk about God the way Jesus did.

He'd always thought of Yahweh as distant and mysterious.  Someone to be obeyed and repentant toward when he didn't live up to the high standards of the law.  Jesus was changing that.  He wasn't sure how or why, but His teaching made Him think differently about Yahweh.  Jesus said His Kingdom was near.  He wasn't sure what He meant by that, but the words intrigued him.  Everything Jesus said made him think in new ways.  And not just about God, but about himself too.  Could he have this new kind of life Jesus talked about?  Was he as valuable to God as Jesus claimed?  Could he approach God and expect to receive what he asked for?  Yahweh had certainly given Jesus the power to heal Sarah's mother when his wife had asked for that today, and then all those people this evening too.  He had never seen anybody display Yahweh's power like that.

But now here they were, out in the middle of the sea, and he didn't like the look of those clouds overhead.   The wind began to pick up and he got more nervous with each passing minute.  As soon as he saw the waves beginning to swell, he knew they were in serious trouble.  He couldn't always tell when a storm was coming, but he always knew when one began to roar.  He yelled out orders to the other men on board.  John and James and Andrew knew what to do, but he told the others to go get Jesus.  They would only be in the way out here, and he knew they might be needing a miracle if they were going to survive this.  He'd seen worse, but not much, and with as fast and furious as this one was coming, they all may end up dying out here tonight.

When he saw Jesus come out and stand in the middle of the boat with the rain pelting down all around them, the wind nearly blowing them overboard, and the waves crashing over the side, he felt a calmness settle over his mind and heart.  Yes, this was bad, but while they were all cowering in fear, Jesus appeared fearless.  He held up His hands toward heaven and shouted something over the sound of the wind and waves.  

"Quiet!  Be still!"

The clouds rolled away, the rain ceased, the waves became calm so quickly an eerie feeling came over him.  What was that?  Seriously?  He looked around at the others.  They were as white as a sheet, and he supposed he was too.  But he had to smile.  Looking back to Jesus, he gazed at Him in silent wonder.  Jesus winked at him and said, "I'm going back to sleep now.  Let me know when we get there."

Peter gave the order to raise the sail back up, and they continued on course.  The others were walking around in astonishment, saying, "What kind of a man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him?"  Peter had that feeling of awesome wonder in his heart, but he wasn't as surprised by Jesus' power as he once would have been.  He'd seen enough, and he was starting to get it.  And he was certain this wouldn't be the last of all he would see Jesus do.  


This story of Jesus calming the stormy sea is recorded in three of the four gospels.  It was certainly a memorable day for His disciples, and it's one of my favorite stories because of the way it turned out.  Jesus didn't just pull them through the storm.  He did more than keep the boat from tipping over in the powerful waves.  He did more than tell them to "hang on" and believe everything would be all right.

I think sometimes this is all we expect from God.  We expect Him to carry us through a difficult circumstance.  We expect Him to call us to a deeper level of faith.  We expect Him to be with us and work all things together for good.  And we should expect those things.  God works in all kinds of ways, and I've seen Him do all of that.

But I've also seen something else.  I've seen what the disciples saw that day.  He could have told them they didn't need to be afraid and left the storm raging.  He could have protected them from peril another way.  But He wanted to show them the full extent of His power--to completely change their circumstance, not just pull them through.

And I've seen Him do that too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:26

Jesus liked to ask questions.  It was one of His favorite teaching tools to get those who were listening to think about what they truly believed.  Negative thoughts were affecting their faith, and thinking differently could change that.  He pointed out a basic truth, like birds being cared for by God, and then asked, "Are you not much more valuable than they?"  He was essentially saying, 'Do you believe in God's love for you?' 

Do you believe you are more valuable than birds?  He values birds and cares for them.  Won't He do the same for you?  No money saved up for college?  No job?  No retirement plan?  No money in savings?  No storehouse of earthly treasure?  No worries.  Your Father's got it covered.  Trust Him.

"See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin...will He not much more clothe you?  Oh you of little faith!" Matthew 6:28.30

Saturday, April 7, 2012

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34

Jesus was God, but He was also fully human. He had a human body, a human mind, human limitations, and human emotions.  The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, and they reveal many of these emotions.  Emotions that we are all familiar with like joy, love, and compassion, along with anger, frustration, sorrow, and loneliness.  

In the middle of a crisis have you ever thought, ‘God, where are you?  Why have you let this happen to me?  Why have you left me all alone in this?’  Jesus did.  And He didn’t just think it; He shouted it for all to hear! 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

He said this while hanging on the cross, and I’m sure I would have said the same.  But had God really abandoned His Son?  I don’t think so.  Jesus felt alone, but He wasn’t.  And He knew that.  He knew the truth: 

I have set the LORD always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay...For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 16:8-10; 22:24)

In the middle of great trials, confusing circumstances, and everyday life, my thoughts can become overcome with feelings of abandonment and aloneness.  I feel like no one can possibly understand what I'm going through, and God is nowhere to be found.   His promises seem false.  He has failed me.

But just because I think that, doesn’t make it true.  God does not forsake us.  He does not forget.  He does not leave.  How did Jesus overcome such a time of wrong thinking?  He believed the truth.  He trusted God.  In the middle of the darkness, He believed He would still be heard.  With a loud cry he breathed his last.  

God will sometimes take us to that point where He is all we have left and crying out to Him is our only hope.  But the key is to remember: He is our hope.  He is there.  He is over it.  And we are never alone.

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.  I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.  Psalm 61:1-4

Friday, March 23, 2012

"...your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8)

I did a word study on prayer once and discovered that one of the original Greek words for 'pray' comes from two root words, one of them meaning 'to wish' and the other meaning 'to forward'.  I forward my wishes to God often!  In fact, I often word my prayers for others this way.  I wish for her healing...I wish her more of Jesus...I wish her love...I wish her peace...I wish her joy.  I like making wishes :)

I've seen Jesus answer a lot of those wishes immediately!  Other times I've had to be more patient.  It can be easy to ask 'why?'  Why aren't You answering that prayer the way I wish You would?  Why is she still suffering?  Why did that have to happen on top of everything else?  Why?  Don't You care?

My 'why' questions are often comforted by the truth: You do care.  You know what is best.  You love her even more than I do.  And I am often freed by this prayer: Your will be done...I wish her Your will not mine.  My will is shortsighted.  Your will is perfect.  It's not always easy to believe that, but my unbelief doesn't make it any less true.

This morning I was reading what Jesus has to say about prayer in Matthew 6.  I like how He doesn't describe prayer as a ritual, or an obligation, or give specific instructions beyond, "Make it personal.  Just between you and God.  Not for show.  Not for duty.  Not to get God's attention...He already knows...your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matt. 6:8)  The more I spend time praying, the more I'm convinced it's not about getting God's attention but God getting mine.

When Jesus does give specific words for us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, I see an overall theme emerge from the heart of the Father. First of all, He is our loving Father, and He wants us to remember that and come to Him with our needs.  But how often do we really know what our true needs are?  What we think we need and what we actually need can be very different.  What Jesus describes here is a need for God's mercy.  A need for help, and He wants to help us.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...God has a specific way of life in mind for me.  Not the life I think I need, or what society tells me I need, but His perfect will.  He has a specific plan, purpose, and ways to bring that about.  He hasn't left me on my own.  He wants to come and fulfill it.  He wants perfection for me in an imperfect world.  How awesome is that?

Give us today our daily bread...I have basic daily needs, and God, in His mercy, will provide for me.  But how often do I worry that He won't?  Do I think He's going to forget?  Do I think He doesn't care about me?  Or do I worry I don't deserve it because of things I've done or because I lack faith?  God doesn't give to us based on what we deserve, but on what we need.

Forgive us our debts...We need forgiveness, and Jesus invites us to freely ask for it.  Do you ever find yourself trying to please God, like you're trying to make up for something—like you owe Him something?  He doesn't want you to feel this way.  He doesn't want you to feel guilty.  He doesn't want you to feel obligated.  He wants you to be free.  Free from guilt.  Free from shame.  Free from heavy burdens of duty.  Ask for forgiveness, and then live free. we have forgiven our debtors...we need to be forgiving people.   To forgive others.  To show mercy.  To let go.  We need that.  Our hearts were not meant to hold grudges and be filled with bitterness.  We die a slow death that way.  Choose to live instead.  Move on.  If you don't think you can, ask for God's help.  This is His desire for you, and He will make a way.

And lead us not into temptation...I love that God wants to guide me in His perfect ways.  Temptations are like side-roads in my walk with God.  He's leading me on the right path—the path of good,  the path of blessing, the path of what I really need.  And then there's that tempting diversion.  But the right road is still in front of me to take.  I always have that choice.

But deliver us from evil...God is my rescuer.  I need to be rescued, but how often do I try and rescue myself?  To be strong.  To work out all the details.  To grasp for things I think will help or satisfy me, but they don't.  Jesus says, 'Don't do that.  Go to God for deliverance.  He knows you need it.  He will protect you.  He will guide you in paths of righteousness.  He will rescue you from the pit you have fallen into.  He will rescue you from that difficult person or circumstance.'

We need what God has to offer us.  The prayer Jesus gave as an example is a prayer of acknowledging that God wants to give us what we need.  When we pray in this way, we are declaring who He is...Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  He is merciful.  He is loving.  He is gracious.  He knows my needs.

Why do we try to live life on our own so much?  Why do we strive when He says, 'Be still and know that I am God.' ?