Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Taking A Step Towards Jesus: Pt. 2

Part 2 of 4

Today, I’m continuing to share some truths found in Matthew 14:22-33. This is a familiar passage to folks who grew up in a church setting. Jesus comes to his disciples in the middle of a storm and walks on water. Now, I grant you, walking on water sounds silly, right? I mean, no one can do that.

So if you’re not a person of faith, let me clue you in on something. By and large, Christians don’t subscribe to silly stories. Most of us don’t believe in fairy tales. But we do believe in supernatural occurrences. All that means is that there are things that cannot be explained naturally. We believe that miracles can and do happen. No, we don’t believe in the tooth fairy, but we believe in Jesus. And as illogical as it sounds, Occam’s Razor leads us to believe that sometimes a supernatural occurrence, like Jesus walking on water, is the most logical conclusion. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about miracles today; that tidbit is free.

So where were we? Ah Yes, Jesus is walking on the water.

The disciples were scared. Honestly, I don’t know what would be scarier: being in the middle of a giant lake in a bad storm or seeing someone walking on the waves. But scared they were.

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Now, last time I shared that a nugget of truth is that God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms. I mean, Jesus knew what was going to happen, and he allowed those disciples to sail right into what seemed like a danger zone. But as I said, many times what seems like a setup for failure is a setup for God to show up. And that’s something we need to know: Jesus Always Shows Up at the Right Time.

I know, for those of us with some miles on us, and some life experiences, we would think that might sound cute but life would have us believe something else entirely. “That’s a nice greeting card sentiment, but in real life…” Hey, I get it. Where is Jesus when the doctor gives you the diagnosis that the cancer is back? Where is Jesus when the bills come in with a FINAL NOTICE stamped on them? Where is Jesus when you feel like you’re all alone, the only one still trying?

I’ll tell you where. Right there beside you. Do we question the promise of Jesus when he said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b)? Or do we take him at his word?

There are a lot of times that I don’t feel God with me. But ours is a belief system of faith, not of emotions. When the God who set the stars in their places says that He is with me, who am I to doubt that? It is just possible that I’m not trusting him at that moment? Overcome by worry or emotion, have we allowed the situation to cloud our confidence in our Creator?

Jesus showing up doesn’t mean the storm is always over. It doesn’t mean the journey through turbulent seas is over. But it does mean that the Master of the seas is riding along with us. And we can trust his timing and his guidance to get to the other side of the storm we find ourselves in.

Jesus always shows up at the right time.

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Devotionals, Faith, Life

Taking A Step Toward Jesus: Storms

Part 1 of 4

As we head into Fall, and a new season, it’s the perfect time to evaluate our lives, habits, and goals. As I ponder what I can share to encourage and exhort others, I keep returning to a message I shared a few years ago called Taking A Step Toward Jesus. So over the next few posts, I will be going through a familiar passage to many of us, Matthew 14:22-33 ESV:

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Quick thought here: This is a little different. Seeing Jesus walking on the water is not a normal occurrence. The disciples are scared, ad frankly I would be too. Let’s pick back up in verse 28:

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I want to unpack this passage a little bit before I get to today’s application. Jesus had just done an incredible miracle. He fed 5,000 men plus women and children. He fed this huge crowd on with just 5 loaves of bread and two fish. With a family meal, Jesus fed a city.

Everyone was so excited (you and I would be too)! They wanted to make Jesus a king. But since that wasn’t his purpose, he sent the crowd away and his disciples as well. So while the disciples sail to the other side of a huge lake, Jesus goes up on a mountain for some quiet time and to pray. But the disciples were about to encounter some major issues.

And that brings me to today’s point: God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms.

Look at verse 24: But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. I’m not much for boating, but this doesn’t sound good. But doesn’t life just feel that way sometimes? The wind blows against you. You try to do something, even the right thing, but it seems like you meet opposition all the time.

Remember, the disciples were doing what Jesus told them to do. Even though they followed the direction of Jesus they went straight into a storm, and now they didn’t see him with them. This wasn’t the first time they experienced the storm, but the last time they were in a storm, Jesus was physically there with them. Now? They are seemingly all alone.

God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms. That’s not a pleasant thought. But we can always count on God to be honest with us. Life brings storms. And it can be really difficult for us to understand God’s promises of peace and provision when we have this account of Jesus sending his followers into a storm without him.

But what seems like a setup for failure is oftentimes a setup for God to SHOW UP in an unexpected way. We’ll see more about that in the next post.

For now? Remember that just because you may be in a storm doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t know or care. Even his disciples encountered rough seas. And perhaps for you, life is smooth sailing right now. Don’t take the calm for granted. Sometime soon Jesus may call you to take a step towards him, a step into the storm.

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Faith, Family, Life, writings

Don’t Give Up on Prodigals

In 1949, a spontaneous revival broke out on the island of Lewis, a remote part of Scotland. Hundreds of lives were changed over the next three years. One story sticks out to me and that is the story of Willie.

Willie was what we would call a prodigal, meaning that he had known the “straight and narrow” but lived a life that was far from God. His mother prayed for Willie his whole life. As he would spend his youth in trouble with his friends and his early adulthood in a continual drunken stupor, many gave up on Willie. Not his mother.

When revival broke out, Rev. Duncan Campbell was summoned to go preach at a spontaneous gathering at the church. On his way he found Willie laying in a ditch with his mother at his side. But Willie wasn’t overcome with alcohol as Campbell supposed. No, he was under conviction of the Holy Spirit to the point of weeping over his lost soul. His mother stayed beside of him, half praying and half begging “Oh Willie, Willie, are ya comin (to Jesus) at last?”

Willie changed that night. Rather, Jesus changed Willie. He later became a parish minister and led a life devoted to Jesus and seeing others coming to faith in Jesus.

Friends, don’t give up on “prodigals”. You may have been one once yourself. Keep praying for Jesus to get ahold of them.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

When God Remembers

Welcome to 2022! It feels so weird typing that. What happened after 2018 just seems like a blur, doesn’t it?

I’m reading through the Bible this year with The Bible Recap (more on that later), and today’s reading is Genesis Chapters 8-11. So I began this morning’s reading right in the middle of the flood narrative (somewhat fitting considering all the rain we’ve gotten here the past few days). And for the first time in my memory, the first phrase of Genesis 8:1 jumped out at me: But God remembered Noah…

This isn’t the first time that God paid attention to Noah. Yesterday, I read in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the Lord.” In the midst of all the evil and selfishness in the world, Noah found favor with God. Not because he deserved it, because grace is God’s unmerited or unearned favor. In other words, God decided to shower Noah (no pun intended) with his blessing.

So God used Noah to save humanity and the animals. No small task for Noah and his family. I’m sure those 100 years or so of building the Ark enduring the mocking of the surrounding people had to be difficult. But Noah, through that grace, endured. The last verse of Genesis 6 (22) says, “Noah did this, he did all that God commanded him.” Wow! Now that is what we rural Christians would call a testimony of faithfulness!

But then the real test came: The Flood. You see, for 100 years Noah had been preparing for this disaster. Yet, once it began, there was no longer anything he could do to get ready. God opened the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens and it rained. It rained feet of water per hour for 40 days and 40 nights. The ark would have been lifted off the ground and everything Noah had known was now under the waves. Even the tallest mountains were covered. For 150 days, the ESV says, “the waters prevailed on the earth.”

Let’s zoom out and consider our lives for a moment while Noah floats around. If we examine our lives and search the scriptures, we see that if we are in Christ, we have experienced grace from God that is indescribable. We also see that God has a work or works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) that will accomplish God’s purposes. We also know that He has equipped us. Maybe you’ve heard this saying: “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” There sure is a lot of truth in that.

But then comes the point that our faith and our works for God are tested. The rubber meets the road, so to speak. The honeymoon is over and now the real work of marriage begins. Our health faces a difficult diagnosis. That great job is over. Your sweet child has become a teenager. 🙂

The name Noah comes from the Hebrew word meaning rest. And here, in the midst of the tempest, that is all Noah is seeking. I’ve been on a long drive with kids before. Restful isn’t exactly how I would describe it. Now imagine what it must have been like with all those animals on board, the sounds, the smells… Life gets messy and that’s putting it mildly.

In those moments, it can feel like we’re forgotten. It feels like God somehow tricked us or betrayed us. We were told that everything would be ok but here we are, like Noah, in the middle of a sea that is strong, prevailing, wondering how long until we come to rest. It feels as if God has prepped us for nothing but disappointment and disaster.

And then we come to those precious words of Genesis 8:1- “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.” Catch that? God didn’t just remember Noah, he remembered all those who were in Noah’s situation.

Okay, let’s clear something up. God didn’t forget Noah. It wasn’t as if God was wandering around Heaven one day and snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Noah’s on that boat! I better deal with that!” No, the word translated as remember, zakar, when in reference to God, conveys the idea of turning one’s attention to. God’s purpose with the flood was accomplished, so now God was ready to deal with Noah and what would take place once the waters subsided. At no time was Noah far from God’s mind. Simply put, some events needed to occur before Noah would experience the fulfillment of God’s plans.

And so you and I need to realize that God hasn’t forgotten us. We are not out of sight and out of mind. God is actively working all things for good for those who love Him and are called by Him (Romans 8:28). Throughout the Bible we see people asking God to remember them. What they are really asking is that God would take action for their welfare. So God hasn’t forgotten you or me. He’s right beside us, working in ways we often can’t yet see. Ironic, isn’t it? We need to be reminded that God remembers.


P.S. At the beginning of this post, I referenced The Bible Recap. Click the link to learn more about how you can read through the Bible in a year. The Bible Recap is more than a reading plan. It also includes a daily podcast that recaps what you’ve just read, helping you to see the application of what you’ve read as well as helping you to learn more about the God of the Bible. They have loads of free resources, graphics, and support. Check it out!

Faith, Life, Ministry, Poverty, writings

Poor in Hope

“And when I thought of the poor I had met in my life, especially in recent years, it was clear that there were poor who were only poor—very sad, often angry, and certainly not blessed.

And then again, I recalled very well, there were poor people who were quite otherwise, poor people who wore their poverty beautifully.

Poor people who had the conviction that they were being guided by God, supported by his Presence.

Poor people who were able to love, in spite of their sudden vexations—poor people who were patient in trial, rich in hope, strong in adversity.

Poor people who were blessed because they could bear witness, every day, that God was present in their lives, and that he provided for them as he did for the sparrows of the ski, which possess no granaries.”

  • From I, Francis by Carlo Carretto

Having grown up middle class in a depressed part of Appalachian Ohio, I have always been around poverty. I’ve been on both sides of the poverty level, and for the last 12 years or so have floated above and beneath it. I’ve seen people with plenty live miserable lives, and I’ve seen people with little be beacons of light and hope in an otherwise dark valley.

I hold no degree in social work. I have no deep psychological training. I have only a varied and rich lived experience to base my thoughts. But what I see as poverty is not so much the amount of money you have, if any, or the condition of your home or possessions. What I see as the real poverty is a lack of hope.

I think that by and large, that is the real failure of social welfare programs from the government. The problem isn’t mass benefit fraud, though that exists. It’s not people being lazy and refusing to work, though that is certainly an issue for some. No, the failure of the War on Poverty isn’t a lack of money but a lack of hope. The government can give out money all day long. What it can’t do is offer hope and community. That can only come from other people.

In the Gospels, when Jesus called us the salt of the earth, he meant to convey a message that we are his agents in this world. We carry out his mission. And His mission is that we make disciples who love God and love others. And while I would say you can never successfully secularize, or remove the aspect of faith and conversion, from that mission, there is the universal need of hope.

From a spiritual standpoint, Jesus is the hope of the Gospel. A person who is lost in their sin, and even made aware of that by an honest inward look, has no reason to follow Jesus unless they realize that with him there is hope, indeed something far surer than hope.

As a Christ follower and one who has theology as the heart of his philosophy, I believe that it follows that the reason for many, not all, in not seeking to live their lives to the fullest, to their God-given potential, is a lack of hope. Sure, there are some that simply need to find a good job. But how many times has that job fallen through before, or discouragement or other barriers crept into their lives, and they give up? Yes, there are those who have deeper issues that need explored with a qualified professional, but I have seen time and time again where that counseling experience didn’t work because there was no hope of a change.

Jesus said that “the poor you will always have with you.” Let’s be honest. Some of us conservative Christians have used that snippet of a verse to justify inaction on behalf of the poor. Thinking to ourselves that because the Messiah said they would always be around that there is no sense in trying to solve a problem that will never stop. And contrary to what some televangelists and faith-healers would have you to believe, Jesus did not come to this world to eradicate poverty. But he did come to give hope.

And so it is with us. We will never eradicate poverty based on income levels and financial goals. But we can work to eliminate the mindset of poverty where people have simply given up. Even some of the most stubborn, some who might be called lazy, have not found a motivation, a reason for being. They need hope. Not the hope of riches or having nicer things, but of a new mindset, one that looks for the good and that sees the good. One that can live cheerfully and as Carlo Carretto said, wear “their poverty beautifully.”

So today, let’s encourage hope. Let’s seek to lift each other up. You don’t have to be financially poor to be hope poor. Be a blessing to others, and so fulfill the law of Christ.