Frantic

Picture the scene. The disciples are in a boat with Jesus, the one that spoke the seas into being. Suddenly a treacherous storm hits. The winds are howling and the waves are smashing. I can picture the disciples frantically trying to steady the sail and bail the water out of the boat. I can picture them panicking because none of their efforts were improving their situation. I can picture them looking at one another and exclaiming: “We’re doomed!” I can see them looking at Jesus as he calmly slept, clearly not phased by the storm they had encountered and crying out, “Don’t you care if we drown?”

Then Jesus sat up and calmly rebuked the storm, “Quiet! Be still!” Incidentally, if you notice in the beginning of the story, it was Jesus who had said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” Jesus was the one who had decided it was time to set sail!  (Mark 4:35-41)

This is the perfect analogy of the storms of my life. In the midst of walking with Jesus, praying and reading my Bible every day, I forget that I will not always experience smooth sailing. Before I know it, life happens and the winds and the waves begin to overpower my life. And what is my first response? To try to bail myself out, of course! I grab the wheel and start trying to steady the sail against the fierce winds. I frantically search for buckets to empty the water being thrown at me by the overpowering waves. But the storm just keeps hitting me and I can’t seem to do anything to save myself.

It usually takes a while, but eventually I remember that Jesus is right here with me and he is not surprised or worried about the storm I’m in.  When he’s ready, he will simply speak and the storm will subside.  In the meantime, he looks at me as I panic at my inability to gain control and he asks me:  “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

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We have all the power we need!

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:9,13

I must admit that whenever I’ve reflected on this passage of Scripture, I’ve taken it as an assurance that when we seek our Heavenly Father in prayer and align ourselves with his will, he will give us what we ask for.  Of course, I’ve always understood that this didn’t mean God was some sort of heavenly vending machine but that this was based on us seeking his will not our own worldly agenda. And I do believe that is true. After all the Bible also tells us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our heart. (Psalm 37:4)

But when I read these verses today, I realized that the “good gifts” Jesus is talking about here are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit we receive gifts that enable us to serve God (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) and fruit (Galatians 5:22) that helps us stay the course no matter what this world may be throwing at us!

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22

What gifts has God given you that you could boldly be using to help others? What fruit is growing in your life that will enable you to face the challenges in your way? We have been given a power that cannot be overcome! The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us! (Romans 8:11) What a difference it would make if we lived each and every day in that truth!

 

And who is my neighbor?

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

A man had come to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was an “expert in the law”, so he was pretty sure that he was already going above and beyond. Certainly he had checked all the boxes and would be able to glow with assurance when Jesus answered him. When Jesus responded to him by asking him what he thought the right answer was, he proudly proclaimed that it was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Jesus even acknowledged that he was right! “Do this and you will live.”

Just to be sure that he had it covered, he asked Jesus to be more specific. Who exactly was his “neighbor”? I have a feeling that as he puffed up his chest at the fact that he had gotten the answer right, he felt this little tug in his spirit asking him if he was sure he was really living this out. He loved his family. He loved all his friends down at the temple. He even loved the other Jews that lived around him. He had it covered… right? But then Jesus answered him with a parable that made it clear that his neighbor included even those that were different than him. That the love of God was to be extended to the outcasts of society and that even the people that may generally be seen as unlovable should be shown the love of God. (The Parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:30-37)

No doubt this man left without feeling justified as he had hoped. I’m guessing that when he walked away from Jesus after hearing the parable, he discovered that loving his neighbor was a much bigger task than he had thought it was. Chances are that this encounter with Jesus changed the way he saw everyone that he came in contact with. We can learn a lot from this parable, too. If we allow the Holy Spirit to show us the people around us through Jesus’ eyes and if we set out to show them the love of Jesus, then the act of loving our neighbor will have a much bigger impact on the world.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. – 1 John 4:7

There is hope – his name is Jesus!

I’m sorry you’re sad and deep in despair. That you’re drowning in sorrow that you’re too scared to share.

There’s a blackness around you that you can’t seem to shake. You’re swirling down deeper with each breath that you take.

You feel chained in a prison that no one can see. You’ve tried all you could, but you just can’t break free.

Well, there is an answer to your emptiness and pain. There’s hope that is waiting to replace brokenness and shame.

His name is JESUS and his promise for you is that if you put your trust in him, he will carry you through.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:13

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. – Hebrews 6:19

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. – Isaiah 26:3

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. – Psalm 31:24

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. – Psalm 62:5

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:21-26

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, – 1 Peter 1:3

 

Time to move!

There are so many times when I read about the Israelites’ journey out of slavery and into the promised land that I see myself in their wanderings.  So often I stumble across a principle that I can apply to my life today.  So often that I am reminded of who God is and that he is still the same today.

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain…” – Deuteronomy 1:6

The book of Deuteronomy opens with Moses giving the Israelites a history lesson.  They had been in the desert for forty years now because of their disobedience, and there was a new generation of people that needed to be reminded of the mighty hand of God in their deliverance as well as of the consequences of not being obedient.  They had first arrived at Mount Sinai on the heels of miraculous deliverance by their God.  He had freed them from slavery in Egypt and had protected them from the encroaching soldiers.  He had provided food and water for them in a barren desert.  He had made it clear to them that he had a plan for them, and that if they would trust him they would experience his blessing.

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” – Exodus 23:20

But when God declared that it was time to move forward and take possession of the land that God had already promised them, the Israelites got in their own way. As I read Moses’ synopsis, I see some important lessons that those of us that love God and have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) need to keep in mind in our own journey with God.

1“You have stayed long enough at this mountain…” (v. 1:6) – There are seasons in life, and although God may leave is in one longer than another in order to strengthen our faith and make us more like Jesus, eventually it will be time to step out in faith towards a new season.  At some point it is time to move!

2“Go up and take possession of it… Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged!” (v. 1:21) – When you sense the Spirit nudging you to accomplish something for the Kingdom of God, you can’t let fear paralyze you. No matter how big the obstacle may be, God is much bigger! And as a child of God, you have not been given a spirit of fear. (2 Timothy 1:7) It is the devil that wants you to be too afraid to move forward.

3“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (v. 1:31) – God has taken you this far; he’s not going to leave you now!

4 – Eventually, an entire generation of Israelites had to miss out on reaching the promised land because of their lack of faith.  Only Joshua and Caleb, the ones who believed that God would do what he said, were allowed to move forward because they “followed the Lord wholeheartedly”. (v. 1:36) – Don’t miss out on your opportunity to be blessed by God!

Never too late

Sometimes when I reflect back on my life, I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed to do something great for the Kingdom of God.  How much time have I wasted? How many times have I said, “I’ll do it tomorrow” yet never got around to it. Many years ago, I was impacted by a verse in the book of Joshua.

“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” – Joshua 3:5

I really felt God was giving me a message through his Word. I felt that I needed to take a close look at my life and “clean it up” so that I could be used by God in some way. I felt that “tomorrow” God would do amazing things through me for his Kingdom. (I believe that this is true for all Christ followers!)

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21

Now years later, I wonder how many opportunities I have missed.  How many times have I allowed fear of failure to stop me from stepping out in faith? How many times have I been too busy focusing on my current circumstances to believe God for the bigger picture? How many times have I been looking the other way when God is trying to get my attention?

Today I read another passage of Scripture that helped me to see that it’s not too late.  With God, it’s never too late!

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:18-19

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past…See, I am doing a new thing!” The devil would love for us to convince ourselves that because we missed an opportunity (or many) we’ll never get another one. But if we’re still here on this earth, then God is not done with us! While it may be true that we can’t go back in time and change anything, it is also true that God can redeem the time we’ve missed. It is never too late to be used by God. It is never too late to be a “special utensil for honorable use…for every good work.”

Lord, I want to be used by you! Help me to tune in to every moment. Help me to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit so that I can make the most of every opportunity you give me. Help me to impact this world for you, Jesus, before you take me home.

Ready for Battle

It is becoming more and more apparent that Christians are in a fierce battle against the tide of moral decay.  And although it may feel like we are fighting against other people, the Bible makes it clear that our fight is not against flesh & blood.  We are fighting against mighty powers in this dark world. (Ephesians 6:12) As God’s children, we have a shared enemy. That enemy is Satan! As the countdown to his ultimate demise speeds up, he is pulling out all the stops in his war against the people of God. He knows how the story will end and it’s not good for him. And even though he can never override God’s saving power through Jesus Christ, he can still try to cause as much pain as possible.

Thankfully, God has not left us unprepared to do battle. Ephesians 6:12-20 tells us exactly how to suit up each day in order to fight the enemy no matter what (or who) he is using against us.

  • The Belt of Truth – A belt plays an important role in the wardrobe of a soldier.  Without it, all of the other battle gear could fall right off. In the same way, grounding ourselves in the truth of who God is and what he has done will ensure that we head out in battle knowing that our battle gear is staying in place.
  • The Breastplate of Righteousness – The breastplate is pretty crucial, too. It offers protection for our heart. The Bible says that we should guard our heart above all else, because it determines the course of our life. (Proverbs 4:23) Our righteousness comes from Jesus and if we live in step with him we will be better able to protect our heart.
  • Feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. – We know where our hope comes from. Jesus Christ died for our sins and we will spend eternity in heaven with him. This is the good news that we have to share with the world.  And we must be ready at all times to share with anyone who asks where our hope comes from . (1 Peter 3:15)
  • The Shield of Faith to distinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. – Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1) We can be sure that God will accomplish all of his purposes for our life and for the whole world.  Faith in an almighty and loving God will help us to remember that no matter what Satan may throw at us, we will have the victory in Christ!
  • Helmet of Salvation – Like the breastplate protects our heart, the helmet protects our mind. Our Salvation through Jesus has reserved for us a place in heaven where the treasures that await us can never be destroyed. (Matthew 6:20) If we fix our minds on things above we can keep the the things that happen to us and around us here on earth in the proper heavenly perspective.
  • Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God – When Jesus was in the desert being tempted by Satan, the only sword he took up against him was the Word of God.  Satan is the father of lies and his main objective is to distort the truth and send us in the wrong direction. If we know the Bible, we can come back at every lie he tries to sell us with the truth of he Word of God.
  • And last but definitely not least, we must be alert and we must pray! – Pray on all occasions. Pray with every kind of request. Pray for each other. The devil hates it when we pray because he knows that in prayer we are formulating a battle plan that he can never defeat!

As the ultimate showdown between God and the devil quickly approaches, you better make sure you are on the right side!  The only way to join God’s army is to admit that you are a sinner and to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Don’t wait until it is too late!