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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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.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

Happy Trials to You

No, I didn’t misspell trails. I promise.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial… I do not know about you but I’d much rather this verse read: “Blessed is the man who has come out of the trial;” or “Happy is the person who has already gone through the storm” or “It’s a blessing to get on the other side of the mountain.”

The word here that James uses makarious and it means happy, blessed, fortunate. How in heaven’s name are you supposed to be happy during a trial? And what makes it more challenging: the textual structure of this phrase means it is not a wish or a description. It is not like James is saying “May you experience a blessing during this rough season of life.” Not even a “bless your little heart.” Nope. What James is saying here is a judgement, a verdict that the person who is steadfast under trial is blessed. Let’s unpack that a little bit.

This verse should not be taken to mean that everyone who is having a bad day is blessed. It does not mean that smile should cross the face of all who encounter a “Check Engine” light today. No, there are specific qualifiers as to what kind of person is blessed. Yes, they are going through a trial. All of us go through trials. Every person you see today or whose social media you see could very well be going through a horrific trial right now that you know nothing about. We hide them well.

James does not say just a person who is going through a trial. What do we know about this person? They remain steadfast. Steadfast means to remain, to reside in place, to stand one’s ground. Some images come to mind when I think of this idea of steadfastness.

I conjure up a basketball player on defense. His legs are bent, arms spread wide, the ball of his feet planted firmly on the court yet ready to pounce at any minute. He is ready to move, but he keeps his eye on the ball, ignoring what is taking place behind him. He has one goal, to stop that ball from making it into the basket. He is steady, he is alert, and ready to plant his whole foot down to draw a charge at any moment.

Or maybe it is the teenage boy at the beach in the surf. It is amazing how even small waves can shift the sand under you just enough to make you collapse in a heap. That is what happens to a lot of us in life. Seemingly insignificant waves of difficulty come and because our footing is not secure our life seems to crumble all around us. But this boy, he is learning. He knows that the top layers of sand move with each passing wave. So, he pushes his feet under the sand. Pushing his feet down several inches under the sand, he finds security. He knows now that he can stand up to the surf and dare the waves to give him their best shot.

You and I face trials often, most days if not all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes we try to stand and endure by our own strength. Sheer determination and stubbornness are not what God rewards but often it is what we try. Our marriage has hit a rough patch and we know that we are the ones in the right, so even though we extend grace to our spouse, we hold on to the ground we think we have won. We cling to the importance of being right, in our own mind at least, and refuse to give an inch. After all, doesn’t steadfast mean to stand your ground?

I have seen many people encounter a storm of their own making. They thought they knew what they were doing or allowed pride to prevent them from asking from help. Instead of steering clear of the storms, they piloted their lives straight into the rocks. To make matters worse, they identify themselves as the victims of others and remain committed to their task, convinced of our Lord’s impending rescue. The only rescue that can occur, however, is for them to surrender control of their lives to Jesus and stop trying to captain their own ship.

No, the strength required to endure does not come from within. It can only come from the LORD. You see God does not choose the “right people” to show his power through. He uses broken clay pots to display his glory and his power. He has chosen the foolish and the weak things so that He might be reflected in our lives. For what glory is it to God for us to endure a trial on our own? For even He could be glorified in that way, we could not endure a trial on our own.

We are blessed when we endure when we remain steadfast under trial. If you recall from earlier, one of the meanings of steadfast is to remain, to dwell or abide. Listen to the Words of Jesus in John 15:9-10

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

How do we remain steadfast? We abide. We abide not in the storm, not in the tumult of our lives, but in the love of Christ Jesus. We cling to the truth that He loves us, that His love endures, and that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from His love. We confess that He is good in a world full of brokenness. We proclaim that He is faithful when all of life lets us down, and especially when we ourselves have not been faithful. He does not and cannot change. His grace is sufficient and His strength is shown to be more than enough in our weaknesses.

And so, friend, as the trials of life wear you down, remember that you are now blessed. Jesus is working in and through you to the glory of God and your ultimate good.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 ESV)