The Plan (Luke 1:12-14)

Talk about fear! Zechariah was a priest and was serving at the Temple. While serving, an angel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child. The child, the angel said, would be filled with the Holy Spirit and be a prophet like Elijah.

Zechariah didn’t believe the angel – and why would he? He and Elizabeth were both very old and they had both resigned themselves to the idea that they would never have children. But God had a different plan.

Elizabeth gave birth to John, who is John the Baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus and the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come to his people. How marvelous that God could use a barren couple to bring into the world such an important figure in history!

But in the beginning, Zechariah was greatly afraid. In fact, he didn’t believe the angel and was struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy because of his unbelief.

Sometimes I feel like we are like Zechariah – scared and unwilling to possibly believe that God has a plan even when it seems unlikely or even impossible. But the fact of the matter is that God does have a plan for each one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a purpose for your life. I like to say that if you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a purpose. In this pandemic, it’s easy to get distracted and fearful, but we must stay focused on God. God has a plan, and we should trust in that plan, even when we can’t see it. If you’re struggling to see the plan right now, spend time in prayer, asking God to open your eyes so that you can see things through God’s viewpoint. Another thing you can do is talk with a trusted friend or pastor to ask them to help you see where God may be leading. Stay the course.

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.

The Concerns of Life (1 Corinthians 7:32)

In this passage, Paul is talking to the church at Corinth about the concerns of this world. He is talking specifically about possessions and becoming too attached to them. He tells us that he wants us to be free from the concerns of this life so that we can focus on what really matters: the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes we get consumed with the things of this world. We worry about the phone we have, the car we drive, and the clothes we wear. But the secret to being truly happy is to forget about these things and focus on God and what he wants for your life.

If we focus solely on God, then the other things that seem so important to us now will quietly fade into the distance. We will see things through God’s eyes and not through our limited human sight.

In times like these, when things are uncertain, it’s easy to focus on the negative things and the things that we don’t know. Paul tells us that instead of focusing on these things, we should be focusing on God. When we put our focus on God then we can have faith that he will get us through whatever we are going through – no matter what.

I’m currently struggling with some things regarding my future. It’s not an easy situation or a situation I thought I’d find myself in right now. I had a plan and I was headed a certain direction and then it felt as though the rug was pulled out from under me. What am I going to do? Where am I going to do it? Was the time, money, and energy I spent to get this point a total waste? It is frustrating to say the least, and in my weakest moments I question God and his plan for me.

However, I know that God has a plan, and that his plan is what is best. I know that even though I can’t see it now, there is something better for me on the horizon. Instead of focusing on what I don’t have, dreams left hanging in the balance, I need to keep my focus on Jesus, my Rock and my Salvation. That’s what it means to be free from the concerns of this life. So keep your eyes on Jesus, and I’ll do the same!

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.

The Family of God (Romans 8:15)

Romans 8 15

I love the graphic for the verse today. It shows a new branch being added to the tree. That’s how it is when we are adopted into God’s family. He doesn’t start a new tree for each of us; he doesn’t just add a new leaf or two; he adds a new branch. When we believe in Jesus, God adds us into the family tree as full sons and daughters, not afterthoughts or slaves.

Slaves serve at the pleasure of their masters and don’t share in any inheritance. They don’t really have a voice and are subject to harshness and dominance by their owners. Sons and daughters, on the other hand, do share in the inheritance, do have a voice, and are loved and cared for by their father and mother. It is this second relationship that we have with God through Jesus.

When we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills us and God adopts us as his sons and daughters. In that adoption we are made co-heirs with Christ, given the full joys of being God’s children. Within that relationship, we can call out “Abba! Father!” an intimate word similar to “daddy,” but connoting more intimacy and closeness. It was an Aramaic term that only children were allowed to use with their fathers. It is special. We are honored to be able to call out “Abba!” to God.

As children of God, we are therefore protected by God in all things. Bad things will still happen to us, as we live in a world overrun with sin, but God has us in his arms. We are a member of God’s family and with that understanding we should not be fearful. God watches out for his family just as we watch out for our own families.

God cares for us and loves us more than we love our own children and parents. As a parent, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would love my children more than I do, but the reality is that God does! If God loves us so much, then why should we fear? Why waste energy focusing on fear when we can instead call out to our heavenly Father who fills us with his Spirit, a Spirit of courage and love?

Doubting Jesus? Even some Disciples…

The Great Commission in the book of Matthew is one of the most well known and most-preached sections of the Bible. It gives us our marching orders; Jesus tells us what we are to do with our lives: make disciples of all nations. That seems like an overwhelming task! Thankfully, Jesus says that he will never leave us as we do this.

When studying the Great Commission, however, I like to start a few verses prior to verse 18, the traditional beginning of the passage.

“Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” – Matthew 28:16-17 (NLT)

When Jesus rose from the dead, there was much doubt amongst the people. After all, who rises from the dead? What’s fascinating to me is that even among the disciples there was doubt. Even among those who followed Jesus closely for the three years of his ministry had doubts about Jesus and his resurrection.

If the disciples, who now are seeing Jesus face-to-face, had doubts about Jesus and his claims, how much more can we expect people today (including those in the church) to have doubts about Jesus?

When people think of doubt, they often link it to a lack of faith. But in fact, the definition of doubt is to feel unconvinced or uncertain about something. So, is it necessary for followers of Christ to be completely doubt-free? I don’t think so.

When Thomas doubted Jesus, did Jesus rebuke him? No! He gave him evidence so that he might believe. I believe God still works that way today.

When we have doubt, it shows that we are thinking critically about things. It shows that we are not blindly following. So instead of hiding out doubt, we ought to use that doubt to motivate us toward researching our faith and getting to know more about it, thereby getting to know more about Jesus.

There are certain things that we are guaranteed as followers of Christ, and things we need not doubt. One is our salvation. We can have assurance of our salvation. If we have placed our faith and trust in Christ, we can be assured that Jesus will not leave us. 1 John 5:13 says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Our eternal destiny is not something that we need to wonder about – the Bible is written to give us assurance.

But what about our other doubts? I would argue that the best way to deal with your doubts is to share them with other followers of Christ. We have been united in a community of faith, and we are to help one another learn and grow in the faith. One way we do that is by being honest with others about what we’re struggling with. Sharing your doubt is not a sign of weakness – rather, it shows that you are always learning and thinking and willing to admit that you may not have all the answers.

One author who does a phenomenal job answering doubts is Lee Strobel. He has written a number of books, beginning with The Case for Christ. Strobel started as an atheist who set out to discredit Christianity. As he studied the facts, however, he became convinced of the truth of the gospel and gave his life to Christ. As a result, he has shared his story and evidence with millions, and has helped many people overcome their doubts.

So today, if you have doubts, don’t worry – you are in good company. Share your doubts with other followers of Christ and lean on each other during these seasons. Don’t silently suffer and allow your doubt to eat away at you and your relationship with God. Think of your doubt as a gift from God, inviting you to know him more and more. Doubt is only wrong if you don’t allow it to motivate you to action.

 

Sticks & Stones? (Luke 22:63-65)

 The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and said, “Prophesy to us! Who hit you that time?” And they hurled all sorts of terrible insults at him. – Luke 22:63-65 (New Living Translation)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

This lie has been told to children for many years. (The first printed copy of the nursery rhyme was found in The Christian Recorder in 1862.) I call this a lie because, as we know, words can and often do hurt much worse than a broken bone.

Of course, the intent of the saying was to help children ignore taunts, refrain from physical retaliation, and remain calm. That’s not bad advice by any means, but the fact is that broken bones will heal; hurtful words which are spoken cannot ever be taken back.

Often the words of a stranger leave no lasting impression on us. We know that the stranger doesn’t really know us, and chances are good we won’t see him again. His words can most likely roll off us with no further consequence. We trust in the fact that he doesn’t really know who we are, therefore his words have very little power over us.

In contrast, the words that hurt us most deeply are the words spoken by those closest to us. The ones who know us intimately have the power to cut us to the core. The hurtful words they speak tend to stay with us. We begin to question our very identity because we believe that they know us so well, there must be truth to what they say. We think perhaps they know us better than we know ourselves. We take their words to heart, even if said in the heat of the moment, because we believe they wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true on at least some level.

In this passage, we read that Jesus is being mocked by the soldiers who are guarding him. We may quickly believe that this is like the first case I referred to – simply strangers. These guards don’t have a clue as to who Jesus truly is. They don’t know that he is the Creator and Sustainer of the world. They don’t know that he is the Son of God, sent to earth to die on the cross for their sins. They don’t know that hours from now, Jesus, while hanging on the cross, will ask God to forgive them.

While that is true, there is something more we need to consider: the guards don’t know Jesus, but Jesus knows them; that’s the very nature of God. We can’t gloss over the fact that God created these men. He knew them before time existed. He watched as they grew in the wombs of their mothers, whom Jesus also knew intimately.

These men, though they don’t know Jesus, were known by Jesus, and they are his children. He knows them and loves them more than anyone else on earth. He cares for their well-being. He cares for their eternal destiny. He cares for their families and their friends. These are not mere strangers – they are his children, created in his image.

Imagine being at the lowest point in your life. You’re literally being taken to your execution – for a crime you did not commit – and there, hurling insults and berating you in front of everyone are your children. Not only have they joined the crowd, they are leading the charge. They are actively taunting you, calling you names, and telling everyone that you are delusional. I cannot imagine that level of pain and betrayal.

Certainly the physical pain that Jesus endured on the cross was excruciating. Crucifixion was the cruelest form of capital punishment at the time. But the emotional pain that Jesus experienced – being rejected, mocked, and scorned – by the people he loves, has to be severe. Jesus loved these men and the crowds that they led so much that they were the very reason he was going through all of this in the first place! He could have called down his legion of angels and ended the torture at any time. Yet he didn’t. He stayed. He endured. And for what? For the chance to save his children from their evil and misguided ways.

We have all done things in our lives that we regret. We have all said hurtful words to our loved ones, to our parents, to our spouses. We know the sting those words have. For Jesus, the pain must have been infinitely worse. The people he loved, the people he knew intimately, were treating him like the worst type of criminal. They rejected him in word and deeds. And to this very day, men and women continue to mock and reject Jesus, in spite of his love for them. May it never be said of us that we mocked the very God who came to save us. Jesus’ physical pain has ended, but it seems to me that the pain of knowing that so many reject him would continue to this day.