Jesus, Calm My Storm (Matthew 8:25-26)

Devotion 35 – Jesus, Calm My Storm

Picture yourself in the middle of a lake, perhaps fishing or just relaxing in the sun with friends and family. Suddenly and without warning, a great storm swirls above your head and the winds and waves pick up. You desperately try to navigate back to land, but your efforts are useless. The water is your master now, and you’re completely at its mercy. You make sure everyone has their life jackets on and you brace yourself for the worst. In desperation, you send up a prayer that God will protect you and your loved ones from this storm and it suddenly stops and becomes still again.

Pretty unrealistic scenario, right?

That’s similar to what was happening with the disciples in our passage today. They were on a boat with Jesus asleep and the wind and waves were raging fiercely about them, tossing them to and fro. The disciples panic, wake Jesus, and beg him to save them.

Jesus simply rebukes the waves and wind and the sea is instantly calm again. With a word from the Lord the storm is silent. The disciples are astonished, for they don’t yet fully know who Jesus is – they won’t have a complete picture of that until his resurrection. Yet, in spite of their lack of faith, Jesus chooses to save them.

Sometimes when things are going awry, we question Jesus. We wonder if Jesus is simply sleeping. Why aren’t you helping me, Jesus? Why aren’t you stopping this storm?

The answer Jesus gives us is to have faith. Have faith that he is ultimately in control and that he has a plan for our lives and our situation – even when it seems doomed and hopeless.

And in those moments when we simply can’t muster up the faith to believe any longer, our prayer changes: “Lord, help me in my unbelief.” God will honor those types of prayers – honest prayers – raw prayers – prayers from the heart.

Whole-Heartedly Following (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Proverbs 3 5-6

These two verses have helped me get through some crazy times in my life. When I felt called to leave my university and go to Bible College halfway across the country. When I accepted a position as a youth minister in a small rural town with only one paved road. When I moved back to Washington after living in Kansas. When I moved to a small town and church back in Kansas. When I started school (each time I’ve gone back). When I started bi-vocational ministry. The list could go on.

The point is, whenever I have had to make big decisions in life, these verses have helped me have comfort in the fact that as long as I’m seeking God first, with my whole heart, I have confidence that he will direct my paths.

Seeking God with your whole heart doesn’t mean that you won’t have doubts – I know that I have had plenty of them! But it does mean that you are confident that you are willing to take the steps necessary to do what you feel God has called you to do in spite of those doubts. It means that you’re focused on his will for your life instead of your own plans. It means that your desire is to bring glory to God instead of to yourself.

When your heart is aligned to God’s will and God’s plan for your life; when you’re not depending on your own understanding; when you’re seeking him in all ways; then he will show you which path to take. That doesn’t mean, however, that he will show you quickly or in your time – he will show you in his time.

I’m in the midst of a season of waiting on the Lord. I am trying to seek God with my whole heart. I am trusting in his plan and timing. But he hasn’t shown me the path I’m supposed to take. Instead I just see roadblocks and do not enter signs. While frustrating at times, I know that I need to have patience and wait on the Lord. He WILL direct me and open up the path he wants me to take.

In times like these it is helpful for all of us to ensure that we’re following God with our whole heart and seeking his will. If we are, then he promises to direct our path. No matter what season you are in – waiting, going, or seeking, trust that God has a plan and path for you.

Assurance of our Faith (Hebrews 11:1)

Hebrews 11 1

The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 11, a chapter filled with heroes of the faith, by stating that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The word translated assurance is an interesting word. In one sense, it has to do with the guarantee of ownership of something – in other words the title deed to something one possesses, much like a house or vehicle has a deed. The title deed for the things we hope for in Christ is our faith.

Faith is the essence of the Christ-follower’s walk with God. We have faith in the fact that Jesus, very God in the flesh, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a horrible death, was raised up from the dead, and is now in heaven preparing a place for us. That’s the essence of the gospel message – the core foundation of our faith. For the Christian, there is no greater truth.

Yet, while we believe that truth, we can’t see that truth with our own eyes. Instead, we have to first rely on the character and trustworthiness of the writers of Scripture, themselves inspired with the very words of God. When we read the eye witness accounts about Jesus and his resurrection, when we read the accounts of the many miracles of God, and we see not just fairy tales, but real life, historical events that took place on earth. We recognize the miraculous workings of God and we are encouraged in our own faith because we see a glimpse of who God is and what he is capable of.

When we look back into the pages of Scripture, it is helpful for us to remember that the God we serve is the same God Moses, Abraham, and Paul served. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the constant source of truth and love. So when we are anxious, confused, or downright distraught, we can reread the pages of Scripture to strengthen our faith.

While we cannot see God face-to-face, we have the experiential and Scriptural knowledge that he is living within each one of us who believes. If God now lives within us, though we cannot see, we can have faith, which gives us assurance in trying times. The Holy Spirit within us should give us comfort, peace, and ultimately faith; faith in Christ and faith that he will get us through everything that comes our way.

The Money Trap (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Hebrews 13 5

During times of uncertainty people often look to different things to find their security. One of the biggest things people turn to is money. They feel like if they have enough money, they will be secure. So begins the relentless pursuit of money and all it can bring.

My family and I have recently been watching a show called Ultimate Cheapskates on TLC. The show is about people who are saving money by living and doing things in odd ways. One man participated in multiple medical research studies. One man turns the breakers off in his house at 9pm. One family all sleep in the same bed so they don’t have to heat and cool the other bedrooms. Many of them dumpster dive for their belongings, food, and even medication. It’s unreal what people will do in order to save a dollar.

When our focus in on money, whether it’s saving it, hoarding it, wanting it, or spending it, our focus comes off of the Lord. It is the Lord who says he will never leave us or forsake us. No one and no thing can ever say that with complete certainty. Our money will be gone at some point and in the end, what will it matter? You don’t see a U-Haul on a hearse – you can’t take it with you.

The next verse in this passage says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid’” (13:6a). When we put our confidence in the Lord, we recognize the inability of money to save us or provide security for us and we rest in him and his care. Don’t put your trust in money, put your trust in God.

Called to Courage (1 Corinthians 16:13)

1 Corinthians 16 13

Everywhere you look there is temptation. Turn on the radio. Turn on the tv. Walk down the street. Go to Facebook. Temptation is all around us. As followers of Christ, Paul reminds us to be on guard at all times, to stand firm, to be courageous, and to be strong.

To be on guard means to be awake. It carries with it the idea of not sleeping on the job. In order to live the type of lives Christ has called us to, we need to be aware of what is going on around us. We need to open our eyes and see the dangers ahead and then do what we can to avoid them. Another way to say this is don’t be a sleepwalker wandering aimlessly about with no real purpose or conviction.

To stand firm means to hold one’s ground. Specifically, Paul is saying to hold one’s ground when it comes to the faith, that is, the gospel message. Don’t be swayed by popular opinion or the latest fads – the gospel is truth and it is absolute. The message that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, rose again to conquer death, and now invites each of us into a relationship with him cannot be changed by anyone. Don’t let others distract or burden you with “gospel +” – that is, people adding to the gospel message or on the other side, people subtracting from it.

Be courageous means having the characteristics of an adult as opposed to a child. Be mature in your faith and don’t allow little things to distract you from the message of faith and hope. Don’t be lured into fear when you already know the truth.

Be strong means to become strong beyond the average. You are not average! You are a child of the King! In him you can find strength to conquer whatever battles you face, whether they be outside temptations or the inner temptations, including the temptation to worry.

As a child of God you are stronger than you know, you are more courageous than you can imagine, and you can stand firm in your faith – all by the power of the Holy Spirit living within you.

Worry or Faith? (Matthew 6:34)

Matthew 6 34

Matthew 6:34 is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has covered topics such as the Beatitudes, prayer, and loving your enemies. This verse is actually the summary statement of a longer section about worry.
 
“That is why I [Jesus] tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6:25-34 (NLT)
Jesus is reminding his disciples that in creation, the flowers and the birds don’t worry, so neither should we. He says that worry is something that fills the hearts and minds of those who do not know God, so those of us who do know God should not be consumed with such things.
 
In reality, it all comes down to perspective and faith. Do we have enough faith? Can we look around and see that God cares for creation, and therefore know that he cares for us as well?
Not surprisingly, the verse right before this passage on worry, specifically about our worldly possessions, also applies to worry: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” – Matthew 6:24 (NLT). You can choose to focus on worry or faith – you can’t focus on both. What, or rather Whom, you choose you to focus on and serve will determine your attitude when it comes to worry and faith. God’s got this – and he’s got you. Don’t ever forget it!

Being on the Visiting Team

When you visit a NFL stadium as a football fan, like myself, it’s usually a great experience – at least when you’re the home team. As a Seahawks fan I have been able to watch them play in 2 different stadiums for away games – in Kansas City and in Dallas. Overall, the Dallas experience was great. The Kansas City experience, not as wonderful.

It was a cold day and it was a close game that the Seahawks eventually lost. Some of the fans, however, were not keen to the idea of my family and I being there in all our Seahawks gear. There were many rude comments sent our way, and it really bothered my daughter, who was about 5 at the time. She couldn’t understand why people would be so mean to us, and particularly the Seahawks players, just because we were cheering for a different team.

For her, she couldn’t separate the Chiefs’ fans’ feelings towards the Seahawks and their feelings toward her as a person. To a little girl, it was an attack on her, not on the team she cheered for.

In Mark 14:66-72, we read about Peter denying to be a follower of Jesus. I think Peter could be seen as the visiting team going into a hostile home field. Jesus and his disciples were the outcasts, the ones hated by the majority. Jesus was taken into custody, and Peter followed from a safe distance. When he arrived in Jerusalem, however, he wasn’t wearing his Jesus jersey – he tried to blend in. He went so far as to lie about who his “team” truly was.

For us, looking back, we might fault Peter for betraying his friend and not standing up for who he was and what he represented. But we might also feel sympathy for Peter, for when it comes to standing alone for something, particularly when the home crowd is against you, it can be frightening. Peter succumbs to the fear and denies Jesus three times.

He “swears” that he does not know Jesus.

And then the rooster crows the second time and he remembers Jesus’ words that he would betray him. Peter weeps, for he knows that he has chosen the easy way out. He knows that instead of proudly standing with Jesus, he has covered up his true allegiance and sold out his faith for a sense of security and acceptance.

The truth is, by lying about being a follower of Jesus, he may have saved his own life. He very well could have been hauled into the courts with Jesus and crucified with him if he had admitted his true identity.

I wonder though, if when looking back, Peter regretted not taking that stand? I believe he did.

When you look back at your life, will you regret not taking a stand for something you believe in, or will you be content with being an imposter in a sea of conformity? As a follower of Jesus we are to live our lives differently. We are to hold different values than the culture at large. Yet many of us, when push comes to shove, simply blend in and try not to ruffle any feathers.

If I had gone to Arrowhead wearing a Chiefs jersey, I could have avoided any adverse reactions. I would have been accepted into the sea of red without anyone batting an eyelash. But when my friends and family saw photos of me, they no doubt would wonder what I was doing. No doubt some of my friends would call me out on social media, claiming that I was a traitor.

And they would be right to do so! I would be claiming in one space to be a one thing and in another space be acting totally contrary. It makes no sense for us when we talk in terms of sports, but when it comes to something that really matters – our relationship with and faith in Jesus – we make excuses.

One day we will stand before God and have to give an account of our lives. I don’t want to have to explain why I was wearing the wrong jersey.

Don’t spend one more day pretending to be a fan of the world when you claim to be a follower of Jesus. It’s just not worth it.

10 Questions a Leader Must Ask

I’ve been reading Be a People Person by John Maxwell. Chapter 6 is titled, “How to be a person people respect.” In this chapter, he asks 10 questions a leader need to ask himself/herself. I think that the questions are important for all of us to ask, so I share these with you here.

  1. Is my personal walk with God up to date?

“What have you been learning recently from the Lord?” What is God teaching you today?

“Sin will keep us from the Word or the Word will keep us from sin.”

 

  1. Am I keeping my priorities straight?

Priorities have a tendency to sneak out of position when we’re not paying attention.

 

  1. Am I asking myself the difficult questions?

– Why am I doing this?

– How should it be done?

– When should I do it?

 

  1. Am I accountable to someone in authority over my life?

Write out “5 Questions I hope no one ever asks me.” List four questions that address your weaknesses, and then enlist someone to help keep you accountable in these areas. The 5th question is, “Have I lied about any of the previous 4 questions, or left anything out?”

Authority minus accountability equals a very dangerous situation.

 

  1. Am I sensitive to what God is saying to the Body of Christ?

Are you sensitive to the fact that God speaks to others, too?

Am I a listening leader or a lording leader?

 

  1. Am I overly concerned with image building?

Is it about me or God?

 

  1. Am I overly impressed by signs and wonders?

More than seeking revival, we need to seek God. If we pursue revival for revival’s sake, we’re seeking after secondary results. Luke 10:17-20: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

 

  1. Am I a loner in my service to the Lord?

It’s never healthy to be a lone ranger.

 

  1. Am I aware of my weaknesses?

To be forewarned is to be forearmed! Am I honest about my weaknesses? Most of us know our deficiencies, but we have a tendency to try to cover them.

 

  1. Is my commitment constantly before me?

The world continually thrusts opportunities at us that would distract us from God’s call.

 

These 10 questions are very convicting for me; some more than others. What question hits closest to home for you?

The Treasure

When I was in college, right after high school, I officially changed my major 4 times – in the first semester! I had felt that God was calling me into full time ministry, but I wasn’t ready to give up the benefits of living a life for myself.

I knew that living a life in ministry was going to require a certain amount of sacrifice on my part. I knew that riches were certainly not in my future, and things like an expensive new car, luxurious vacations, and a large mansion were not going to be in the cards. The problem was that I had a desire for all those things! I didn’t want to be stuck driving my old Ford Escort. I wanted to be able to travel the world. Yet I knew, deep down, that God was calling me to something more; something deeper and more meaningful than the luxuries of this world.

I know that these are first world problems. In some areas of the world, these things aren’t even dreams for people because they are so far out of reach. I recognize that, and am deeply fortunate. That didn’t change the reality for me, though, that I was giving up the life I had dreamed for myself in the quest of serving God with my whole heart. There are twin parables in Matthew 13 that address this shift in focus and the quest for what matters.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. Then he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

– Matthew 13:44-46 (NLT)

The men in these two parables found something of great worth – Jesus – the Kingdom of God. When they found it, they immediately recognized its worth and gave up all they had in order to acquire it. When I look at my own life, I did give up some of my material dreams for the future, but did I give up ALL that I had in order to follow Jesus?

I think about my day-to-day life and I wonder, am I giving up all that I have in order to serve Jesus in this very minute? Are my thoughts on things of God? Am I sharing my faith with others so that they might know Jesus? Or am I still living for myself?

This question is one that cannot be answered too quickly. It’s easy to say, well, I go to church, tithe, teach, preach, and serve others, so I must be OK, right? But just doing the right things doesn’t mean that I’m living my life sold out for Jesus. It doesn’t mean that I’m giving Jesus 100% of who I am. What parts of me am I holding back?

These parables should cause us all to pause and evaluate our lives and life choices. If our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be the most important thing in our lives, we need to check to make sure that is true. Are you willing to sacrifice ANYTHING for the sake of Jesus? If you can’t answer yes to that question, it’s important that you wrestle with God about that.

What is God calling you to give up or sacrifice for His sake? Are you willing? If not, why not? What has a hold on your life greater than your desire for the Kingdom of God?

Peace in the Midst of Unrest

Let’s just be honest. Today I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Yes this week is a busy week, but today’s overwhelmed feeling feels different. I don’t know why.

At the Ministerial Alliance meeting yesterday, one of the activities we did was to draw a clear rock out of a bowl. The clear rock was to remind of us our baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. On the rocks were the Fruit of the Spirit. The instructions were to either draw a rock and see what the Lord brought you, or find a rock with the word you wanted. As you might have guessed, I just reached in.

The rock I got was “peace.”

I smiled to myself when I saw what word I had drawn, because honestly that’s not how I’ve been feeling as of late. Hurried and busy would be a couple of good words. During this past weekend excited and joyful would be on the list. But peace? No way.

What is it about that word that makes me revolt against it so strongly? It’s as if it’s a foreign word with little relevance to my life right now. On my personal spiritual retreat, the words I came away with were, “I will fight.” And yet, the fruit of the Spirit is peace.

I did a quick word study for “peace,” as found in Galatians 5’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit. Strong’s says that peace is “Particularly in a single sense, the opposite of war and dissension. Among individuals, peace, harmony. Metaphorically peace of mind, tranquility, arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of a divine favor.”

Looking at that last sentence, I wonder if I have “peace of mind arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of divine favor”? I certainly have been reconciled with God through my faith in Jesus, but what about the “sense of divine favor”? Do I really sense a divine favor?

If I stop and look at it, certainly I do. But is that what I’m focusing on most of the time? No. And there it is. That’s the reason I don’t feel at peace. I am focusing on the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the craziness of life, I need to focus on two things.

First, I need to focus on the fact that I am reconciled to Christ through my faith and baptism in Him. Second, I need to recognize all of the blessings that God has given me. I need to be thankful for my family, my friends, my church, and most of all, the salvation given to me at Calvary (see point 1!). If I can remain in a state of gratitude for what God has blessed me with, and be reminded that God has always been there for me in my times of need, that will help me remember that he will be here in my current time of need, frustration, and busyness.

So my friends, I wish you peace.