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!

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry

Fruit Takes Time

“Ouch!” That was how I discovered I had a pear tree. Well, that’s how I discovered I had a pear tree that had actual pears on it.

When we bought our home, I was delighted to have so many trees on our property. I like trees. Sure, they’re a pain to mow around, but I love them. Our property had several ornamental pear trees, if they produced anything, it was a tiny inedible fruit that was perfect for birds.

This one particular tree in the backyard didn’t even produce these in the 4 previous years we had lived at our home. Then one morning in June I was mowing around this tree and forgot to duck. My head brushed against a branch and I was showered with 3 or 4 baby pears hitting my noggin.

We were delighted to know we had a fruit tree that would actually produce fruit! That summer we got a nice little harvest of pears, so sweet and juicy. We decided then and there to plant some more fruit trees.

But good fruit takes time. You don’t plant an orchard expecting a bumper crop in just a few months. It takes a long time for a tree to produce much, and patience is a must. I doubt the previous owners, who planted this pear tree, ever got to sample its fruit. But we’re thankful they planted a sapling that we can now enjoy the fruit thereof.

Earlier this week, I posted about the choice between fruitfulness and faithfulness. This is a continuation of that thought, if you will.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural parables in his teaching, something most of his audience could relate to. In Luke 13:18-19, He said,

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Now, if you’ve read the Gospels, you’re familiar with the idea of faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed that produces a large shrub or tree. In this instance, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God. A quick study of this passage will lead you to the conclusion that Jesus’s teaching, which seemed insignificant to Jews seeking a political revolution, would lead to a surprisingly large change.

But I don’t know that this is the only application. I think there is some personal application here as well. If we compare this mustard seed the the mustard seed of faith, we see that a little faith can lead to a major impact.

Mustard seeds can be tiny. Imagine trying to plant these suckers. I’d probably lose half of them. But they can develop into quite the plant. Faith is like that. Many times when a person comes to faith in Christ, the change, the difference, may seem tiny, even insignificant.

Sometimes as people of faith, we can get upset, angry even, with a new believer’s seeming lack of fruit. Don’t get me wrong, there should be fruit, just don’t expect a lot of it. Our sanctification and spiritual maturity aren’t instantaneous. In fact, in the parable of the soils in Mark 4, Jesus warns about those who immediately receive the Word with joy and spring up quickly. He says that because they have no root, they wither and die.

You see, when most seeds begin to sprout, they first send roots down into the soil to get nutrients and to find stability. This is what Paul is telling us in Colossians 2:6-7 which says:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

If a tree or bush as a solid root system, it can grow and weather just about any storm.

Over time, with a solid root system, the mustard plant will grow strong and big. It’s the same with a Christ follower. As we draw strength from God’s Word and have both a vibrant prayer life and walk with the Holy Spirit, we grow. We begin to bear fruit. It may seem little at first, just a bloom here, a bud there. But given time, consistency will lead to a bigger and bigger impact.

Eventually, this plant that was barely producing fruit will be able not only to produce fruit, but able to have a significant impact on the world around it. Nests for birds, a place of rest for the traveler, a whole ecosystem impacted.

As we grow in Christ, we will impact the world around us in ways we never thought possible. But it takes times. Good fruit always takes time to develop. The spiritual fruit of our lives, made possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, will grow exponentially. All coming from a little seed of faith. So don’t be discouraged with the lack of spiritual growth in your life or the lives of others. Pray for a work of the Holy Spirit and for consistency. After all, fruit takes time.

Uncategorized

The Rock is Real

I read recently on social media a story of a couple with small children, getting divorced. Without giving away too many identifying details, the opening of the post said this:

“They told us we built our house on a rock. They didn’t tell us the rock wasn’t real. How can a house stand on an imaginary foundation? The walls cracked. The floor buckled. The entire house groaned. So we’re leaving the house before it collapses and kills us all. Leaving is painful and hard. We were told that divorce is wrong, that it’s the ultimate failure. But it’s not. It’s an act of love.

Poetic, isn’t it? It’s a shame that it’s riddled with so many things contradictory to the Christian world view.

My issue here is not to address the couple getting divorced or anything specific to their situation—I wish them both well, and that God would work in their situation for their good and His glory.

My hope here is to address some of the commonly held misconceptions that I see in that post. And yes, I know people will disagree and the disagreement ultimately comes down to conflicting worldviews.

I’m going to start with a few presuppositions: There is a God who has made this universe and everything in it, and He has revealed Himself to us through nature and conscience, and though we may deny it, it is something we all at onetime believed until we suppressed that knowledge (see Romans 1 and Hebrews 1).

“They told us we built our house on a rock. They didn’t tell us the rock wasn’t real. How can a house stand on an imaginary foundation?

I could be misreading the intentions of the author here, but to me, this is a clear reference to the idea of Jesus Christ as the Rock. Some of you may remember the song from Vacation Bible School or Sunday School, “The wise man built his house upon the rock” and it is now stuck in your head. You are welcome.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus uses the story of two men building houses to illustrate how important it is to follow his teaching. Verse 24 & 25 say “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

Contrast this with the foolish man in verses 26 & 27: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

There is a Rock. It does exist. The variable here isn’t if the house stood or fell. The root of the difference between these two houses is the choice made by the builder. You see, both men heard the words of Jesus, they both knew there was a rock to build on. One dug down and laid a foundation upon solid stone. The other decided to build on the constantly shifting sand of man’s own inclinations.

What particularly grieves me about society today isn’t so much the fact that people who have never heard of Christ build their lives upon the sand. Yes, of course it burdens me, and saddens me, and our call is to reach those people for Christ. But what really makes me angry and sorrowful at the same time is when I see people who have heard the words of Christ, and simply allow them to go in one ear and out the other.

Of course, we all from time to time fail to live up to God’s standard. Christians mess up. We fall. We stumble. We sin. But Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice and they follow him (John 10:27 Hyperlink). We don’t hear his words and think, “Oh that’s nice. Nah.”

For a Christian to deliberately turn their back on the voice of Christ, there must surely be intense spiritual and emotional anguish inside their heart and mind. It is not an easy thing for a sheep to turn back from the shepherd. And so we are left with two possibilities: either they never heard the voice of the shepherd to begin with, or they have deluded themselves entirely. I’ll allow the Calvinists and Arminians to fight this one out.

But the author is right… A house cannot stand on an imaginary foundation. And yet, that is precisely what it is build on when not built on Christ.

The social climate of today is willing to disregard every standard, every norm, in the name of happiness. Where Christianity teaches finding contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) with ultimate satisfaction and joy found in Christ and eternity with God, mankind’s sinful lust still cries out for happiness.

Happiness is a feeling. “But Adam, what’s wrong with happiness?” Nothing. But it’s a really bad idea to base your existence upon a feeling that can change moment by moment. Yet sadly, for many, this is precisely what drives them. Not being good, not living out God’s purposes for them, but focused on what makes them feel good for the moment.

Doing what makes you happy means you make stupid, inconsistent decisions. It means you break your marriage vows because you want to “have some fun” with someone else. It means you leave behind your kids to follow a “dream” that means more to you than our own children. It means throwing everything away for a moment or two of fame, ecstasy, or simply to find something new.

I’ve noticed a major shift in the last few years. More and more families are breaking up because a spouse decided that they weren’t happy and wanted to try some new path. You and I both have seen an increase in marriages breaking up, not because of abuse, or even infidelity, but because someone just decided they weren’t happy, and come hell or high water they were going to get happy.

Do I want to be happy? Yes. Of course. No one goes around wanting to be unhappy. And fortunately for me, I have moments of deep happiness. Watching my children sleep snuggled in bed. The birds singing in the trees at 7 AM. My wife smiling as we somehow made it through another day. A new package from Amazon. A flower in my garden. The feel of a new book in my hands as I turn the pages. A good movie. A good steak. An evening with friends. Teaching. An afternoon in my hammock.

But my life is not always happy. I get upset. I get hurt. I get refused or rejected. I fail. I realize how out of shape I am. I have an argument. I think about something stupid or hurtful someone did or said.

But I’m not going to throw my life away because I am unhappy. For the Christian, happiness is not the goal. God’s glory is the goal.

Divorce Is An Act of Love

Look, I get that people get divorced for all sorts of reasons. My purpose here is not to litigate the merits or theology of divorce and remarriage. I recognize that some folks have gotten married who should never have even gone out on a first date. I have friends who have had unfaithful or abusive spouses and for them, they have found a new life or new sense of freedom since that failed marriage.

But let’s recognize divorce for what it is: the tearing apart of a life. When two people are married, they become one: physically, sexually, spiritually, and emotionally. Many of my friends who have gone through a divorce say that is very similar to a death. That’s because it is. It is the death of who you were during that marriage. Regardless of whether the marriage was good or bad, or the divorce justified or not, it is not easy.

No one wakes up one morning and decides “Hey, I want to get married and then go through a divorce in a couple of years.” No sane person anyway.

Here’s the mindset of the quoted post: I want to be happy. Right now I am happy with you. When I stop being happy with you, I will discard you gently and look for some other way to be happy.

That’s not Godly. It’s not mature. It’s not marriage. What it is is dating in Jr. High. That kind of mindset takes marriage from being a covenant made between two people to being a simple social status, a temporary state of being instead of a lifelong commitment.  And because we are so focused on the right now, on immediate gratification, we throw away relationships like yesterday’s trash.

So what do we do? Is this just the ramblings of an old-fashioned Bible-thumper? Maybe. But I have a suggestion:

Let’s build our lives, our metaphorical houses, on the Rock that is Jesus Christ. Let’s actually do what he says instead of doing our own thing while pretending to follow him. Then we have a foundation for not just our marriages, but for all of life.

And if you are married, if you and your spouse will both put in to practice the teachings of Jesus, it won’t be easy, but it will endure. And in the end, it will be worth it.