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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Finding Calm in the Storm

Once after a long day of work, Jesus and His disciples climbed into a boat to cross the sea.  They pushed out and settled in for a little break until work would kick back up again on the other side.  Some of the disciples, due to their fishing experience, knew how to navigate the waters, so were comfortable on the seas.  Jesus immediately laid down and fell asleep.   
Very soon however, the winds picked up and they were in the middle of a full-blown storm.  The wind speeds were high and created large waves that crashed down on their boat.  They began taking on water and became fearful their lives might be lost at sea.     


Meanwhile, Jesus continued to sleep.  His disciples were agitated at His disconnect from the urgency of the situation.  Filled with panic and fear they angrily awoke Him saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).  

Jesus stood, looked out on the stormy sea and spoke directly to the wind “Calm!” and to the waves “Peace!”  The disciples stood in amazement as suddenly the weather changed with the wind stopping and waters resting.  They marveled.

Then He turned and confronted their lack of faith in Him.  Their eyes fixed on the storm and they became controlled with anxiety and doubt.  They lost all sense of reason, as panic took over.    

The event communicated how Jesus has the power to control the greatest forces of nature and how He wants people to trust Him when walking through the disasters of life.   

Jesus does not promise to calm every storm, but does show how through Him we can experience His peace. 

If we are dealing with the effects of a hurricane, tornado or a wild fire, His calm can reign.  If we are dealing with a wayward child, bankruptcy or traumatic medical diagnosis, He can give us rest.      

Sometimes He chooses to let the storms come and they cause great damage and pain, at other times we are spared with a sense of relief.  There is a mystery to it.  We do not understand God’s ways.  But one thing we do understand, His steadfast presence and abiding peace remain.   

A prayer for you – Lord God, I pray for those in our country who are walking through the effects of hurricanes in the south and the forest fires in the west.  I don’t understand why these disasters were not suddenly stopped.  Even so, I pray you will show yourself mighty to those who have suffered loss.  Help them to trust in you despite devastation all around.  May you lift their eyes heavenward and fill them with your joy and rest.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Answer to Racism

Levi was among the earliest disciples to follow Jesus and hosted a large dinner gathering for Him.  Because Jesus was celebrity-like He attracted attention wherever He went and on this occasion, while He was inside with Levi, the Pharisees were outside watching.  They were a religious group that fiercely opposed Jesus and condemned Him saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).   

Pharisee means “separate”.  In the case of tax collectors, the Pharisees separated themselves, because according to their religious rules, the collectors were considered unclean.  In modern day language, the Pharisees' actions revealed the hate and intolerance in their heart. 

The tax collectors were thieves and corrupt to the highest degree.  However, the religious leaders responded with equal injustice.  They barred the tax collectors from their synagogues, refused to touch, speak or be in their presence and taught that promises made to them were permitted to be broken.

When we return evil for evil, like the Pharisees did, nothing gets better, only worse.  And springing from this, when we look down upon others because their race or views are different than ours there will be no hope for peace.  The practice of separatism can lead toward bullying, oppression, racism, bigotry and to the extremes of ethnic cleansing and genocide. 

Jesus is the answer to this inherit evil.  He is the only religious figure in world history whose life and teachings break down walls of separation between people, and His death and resurrection provided the power to do it.     

When we surrender our lives to Jesus, His Spirit does a supernatural work in our hearts that washes away our sins and gives us a new heart that is filled with God’s love for all people.

He modeled what this new heart looks like when He had dinner at Levi’s home.  He went toward someone that was different than Himself and showed mercy and kindness, which He showed toward His critics too. 

Following Jesus' resurrection, He commanded His followers to take His good news to all people across the world, and do what He did with Levi.  Consequently, the uniting message of Jesus has been taken to nearly every nation and territory on the earth and through Him people of different races, political leanings and religions have broken down the walls of division.

A prayer for you - Lord God, as we look across our community, nation and world division is everywhere.  Forgive me if I separate myself from those who are different than I am and look down upon them.  Change my heart and help me to show mercy and kindness to all.  By the power of Christ, let me be the change our world needs.  In Jesus name, amen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

When We Love Our Stuff Too Much

Have you ever heard The Parable of the Rich Fool?  It is an ancient story Jesus once told. 

Crowds would often follow Him and people would ask questions.  A young man once asked Jesus to get involved in a personal matter and make his brother divide the family inheritance with him.  In response, Jesus made a profound statement, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Jesus laid his finger on the real issue with the young man.  He loved the “stuff” of life too much.  

Jesus illustrated his point with a story.  He told about a wealthy farmer that had another tremendous harvest.  As a result the farmer said to himself, “What am I going to do?  What I have isn't enough storage for my grain.”  Then he decided, “I'll tear down my existing barns and build larger ones, then I'll be able to store all my grain and many other things.  And after that, because the harvest was so great, I'll have enough saved up for many years to relax, enjoy myself and have no worries.”  But, in the midst of his reasoning, God spoke to him saying, “Fool!  Tonight is your end and all that you've laid up in these barns, whose will they be?”

The story communicated that life is more than the possessions we own.  Jesus effectively made the point by confronting the farmer with his own mortality.  It would all stay behind when he would enter eternity.  

My wife and I witnessed the devastating losses people faced following Hurricane Katrina while doing some relief work along the Gulf Coast.  We saw families who lost everything.  All their possessions were suddenly ripped away.  As we talked to person after person, the disaster became a pivotal moment toward the real priorities in life.     

Why wait to discover this when facing a crisis?  Our stuff can sometimes become a distraction.  As a result, we may live for today and neglect tomorrow, or in other words, live for what is important to us, rather than what is important to God. 

Maybe we do not live for God because we do not know Him.  The farmer got a wakeup call to who God was when God declared, “Tonight is your end.”  Since He has power over life and death and the present and future we ought to heed His warning.  Let us make knowing God through Jesus our highest priority and managing all our stuff, down the list a ways.    .

Here is a prayer for you.  “Creator God – I am sorry I have made things more important than people.  I am sorry I have put more trust in the things of this life, rather than you.  Take my heart.  Wash it clean of all my sin.  Become the number one priority in my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, July 3, 2017

How to Overcome Loneliness

According to experts in the field of human behavior, loneliness is at epidemic levels.  Millions are walking through this dark valley and every day the numbers are growing. 

It may seem odd as to how people could feel so lonely in our modern times.  With all the technology available it may seem like an impossibility.  But it is true.  Social media, television, movies on demand and having an ability to instantly connect with anyone anywhere does not remove the struggle.

I grew up as a Pastor’s kid and moved often.  My personal fight with loneliness came in my sophomore year of high school.  We moved again and I felt like I could not fit in to the new school in a new town.  I responded by withdrawing to my room.  My grades plummeted and my parents became deeply concerned. 

Here I was surrounded by people at school, church and my family, but overwhelmed by loneliness.  

By no means was my story unique.  Loneliness is a common human experience.  Why do we feel this way?  In an article from Time on this subject, it begins by saying “Humans were not designed to be solitary creatures.”  The author is partially right.  We were not created to live in isolation, but she does not identify who we were created by, which is important. 

All of us were created by God.  He made you and me.  Furthermore, the article did not clarify “solitary”.  Most writings on loneliness speak of isolation in regard to relationships with other people.  That is partially right too. 

Yes, God created human beings to live in relationship with other people . . . and with Him.  Here is a truth.  If we do not know God personally or have drifted in our relationship with Him then we have provided the foundation for loneliness to flourish.    

The first step toward victory begins with Him and understanding that He made us for a purpose.  The Scriptures say, “. . . everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7).  God made you to know Him and experience the wonder of His beauty and majesty.  It is there we are made whole and complete, where there is no loneliness, but abiding joy and peace. 

Only one thing keeps us from experiencing this – ourselves.  When we purposefully resist God, passively neglect Him, hurt others or put our needs above those around us, we open the door of our life to loneliness. 

Here is the good news though.  Jesus came to save us from ourselves.  Through His death and resurrection, He made a way for us to be made whole. 

Are you struggling with loneliness?  There is hope!  Take the step of knowing God and following Jesus Christ with all your heart.