Monday, February 27, 2012

#8 Mark 6:49-50 "Hello? It's Jesus!"

"But when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.' "

Jesus walked on water. Every time I think of this image, I envision a glorious, supernatural sight, a miracle, a wonder, an awe-inspiring vision.

But not those crazy disciples. They weren't struck with awe and wonder. They were terrified. Don't think "The Greatest Story Ever Told" or "The Ten Commandments." Think "Poltergeist" or "The Ring." They were scared!! My goodness. What were they thinking?

Well...I usually am not one to be too hard on those poor disciples. After all, when WE consider what we know today about Jesus, the disciples' fears and "crazy thoughts" seem pretty lame, considering the leader they were following was the Lord of the Universe Himself.

But remember, at the time, they really didn't know that.

This story of Jesus walking on water to get to his disciples is preceded by the miraculous event when Jesus fed 5000 people using just a small amount of food. This was no small miracle. It wasn't simply a matter of Jesus, in His wisdom and cleverness, taking a small boy's lunch and somehow stretching it out into enough food to tide people over until their next meal.

No, this was a miracle that took the loaves and fish (which, really, were more like small buns with sardines) and supernaturally made it into a feast, with 12 baskets of leftovers. This wasn't done by a whiz chef from The Food Network. This was the work of God.

So, since the disciples witnessed this wonder first-hand, Bible scholars conclude that they should have known that Jesus could only have produced that miracle as the Son of God. So, why were those guys afraid of a storm at sea (especially the experienced fishermen who had no doubt met such conditions before) and the figure that walked on the sea toward them?

Simple. They weren't expecting Jesus to come they way He did, by walking on the sea as though it was solid ground. (Who had ever seen something like that before?)

Do I know Jesus as my Lord and as the Son of God? Yes I do. Does this mean I always recognize Jesus' presence in my life when He comes to me in a totally unexpected way? No, it doesn't.

Haven't you ever been in a troubling or painful situation, and felt confused? Sometimes you think you see guidance in your life or hear a word from God....but then you doubt. You're not sure what you were seeing or hearing was from God....or from yourself....or from the world or our pop culture....or maybe even from the Devil.

How many times have I heard from other believers, "I think I know what God might be saying to me, but I'm not sure if I'm hearing God's wisdom, or just 'hearing' what I want to hear because that is the message I prefer"?

Yes, we all get confused sometimes. An unexpected and unlikely occurrence might be something sent by God...or it could just be coincidence. That voice in your head might be God telling you something important....or it might be your own guilty conscience or your fear talking. do we know for sure where those messages, situations or words of wisdom come from? Simple. Look at this verse once again. When the disciples got confused, Jesus identified Himself and said, "It is I. Do not be afraid."

During those times I get confused and really, really, really need God's guidance, I know I can trust God to identify Himself to me and assure me that I have nothing to be afraid of.

Jesus desires to come to us. He desires to guide us, keep us safe and meet our deepest needs. When you doubt your own ability and discernment to know wisdom from folly, trust Him. When He guides and comforts you, trust Him to identify Himself, assure you it is He whose arms are wrapped around you, and trust Him to allay your fears. that's not so simple as it sounds. It takes a listening ear, a watchful eye and lots of trust. But remember, it's not your own discernment you're trusting. It's Jesus you'll be trusting.

Jesus...the Man who can feed a multitude with next to nothing, and can stroll on the stormy seas without sinking or falling.

Jesus....the Man who can guide and care for you and me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#7 2 Peter 3:9 "Is God Slow?"

"The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Have you ever found yourself praying to God and saying things like this? "Dear Lord, please help me in this situation. I need help now. I need this to be resolved. Please hurry with your answer. Impatiently yours, Your servant [fill in your name here]......"

Yes, I will admit it. Sometimes I, too, think God is slow. But, of course, from what I know of God, He really is NOT slow, He just seems that way.

We are a generation who lives by the half-hour sitcom where everything is resolved and satisfied within the 30 minute time slot. We are the audience who loves the overnight sensation, the break-out performer, the Hollywood Happy Ending.

That's because we mortals want things to happen NOW. We're willing to work for things, as long as resolution is already in sight. We have to see the light at the end of the tunnel before we even enter the tunnel. We won't tune in to the ball game until the 4th quarter. (Okay, no die-hard sports fan will do this, but I confess that I do...)

In this passage from 2 Peter, God's promise refers to the Coming of Jesus Christ. First century believers hoped that Jesus would return to earth during their life time. They hoped for that resolution, not only for their faith's sake, but for the sake of the suffering, persecuted brethren.

Those who were skeptical of this new faith, Christianity, scoffed and mocked them. They laughed at them because they believed and hoped for a salvation that didn't appear to come. They prayed for Christ's supernatural appearance on earth that seemed futile and foolish.

Quite honestly, I don't tell everyone I meet that I hope to be caught up in the Rapture of the Church any time soon. (For the record, I DO place my hope in Jesus' rapture of His church, but that's another sermon topic for the future...) And I know most non-believers and modern day scoffers are not watching to see if I am raptured .

But they ARE looking at my life and observing whether or not my prayers are answered, if my trials are resolved, or if it appears that some Higher Power is watching over me and taking extraordinary care of me. In other words, they're watching to see if my faith is worth it, and if my God is worth waiting for.

Let's face it. There's no way to hurry up God. This verse makes it quite clear that God has His own time schedule, and that schedule isn't always to our liking.

But we can still hope, knowing that God has a purpose for this world and for His children. The world may not see God answer quickly or expeditiously, but the world can watch our trust, our unwavering hope and our firm belief that He is in charge. After all, isn't faith the substance of what we hope for and the evidence of things we can't see? (Heb. 11:1)

I can't usually see beforehand how God will work out a situation, but I can always be confident that He will. I can't hurry the answer along with more prayers, more fasting and more pleading. But I can wait and know that He has taken care of it.

The world and its scoffers will see our quiet confidence in Him. They can make fun of that, but they can't argue with the results. I remind myself of this, primarily, not just to you, my readers. I, too, get caught up in my anxiousness and doubt.

God quietly reminds me that it's already taken care of. If He said it, then I believe it.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

#6 Ephesians 6:4 "God: My Dear Old Dad"

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the LORD."

Okay....if you take this verse in its most literal sense, we women (and any non-parents) would be tempted to say, "Well....I'm not a father, so this verse doesn't apply to me. I'll just read it to my husband and tell him to apply it to his life!"

Yes, you can say that. But, truth be told, we'd all be missing out on one of God's gems of truth.
So why should a non-father (much less a non-parent) listen to this verse and discover its application to our lives? What does Eph. 6:4 have to say to us non-dads?

Well, I can honestly say, that since becoming a mom in 1987, I have learned in greater depth and understanding, just how God loves and cares for us as a parent. I have been learning (and continue to learn) what it means to BE loved by my Heavenly Father, and how I am to feel and respond in return.

As we all know, God never gives a command or word of encouragement that is not consistent with His character and being. God gives instruction to fathers primarily because He Himself is a father. Moreover, He gives instruction that reflects His parenting style.

Parenting style? God has a parenting style? You bet.

In studying what the field of developmental psychology says about styles of parenting, I found that there are 4 basic types.*

1. Authoritarian parenting. This is when children are expected to follow a strict set of rules laid down by their parents. Failure to comply results in punishment. Orders must be followed without question or explanation.

2. Authoritative. Rules and expectations must still be followed by the children, but this kind of parent allows and encourages dialogue and questions with their offspring. When children fail to obey, although they are still corrected, they are met with more grace and forgiveness, rather than just punishing.

3. Permissive. Here, leniency is key. Few demands are made, children are allowed considerable self-regulation and parents avoid confrontation.

4. Uninvolved parenting. While basic physical needs of the children may be met, these parents are generally detached from their children's lives.

Even without much discussion, it is easy to see where I'm going with this. God is too often seen by others as being either the first, third or fourth style of Father, or perhaps a combination of them. Those with very strict, rule-oriented backgrounds will fear that God is parent #1. Those who believe that "God loves us and wants us to be happy, so I'm allowed to do what I want" worships God as parent #3. Still others see God as the uninvolved parent #4, who cares little for the day-to-day worries of lowly mankind. He's too busy running the universe...or something like that.

Happily, I have known God as parent #2. Yes, the Word of God makes clear to us what God considers a righteous life. He encourages us and instructs us in living a life pleasing to Him. But doesn't He also allow His children to question Him, to discuss our concerns and worries with Him? Isn't our failure to be perfect usually met with grace, forgiveness and the assurance of His continued love?

The fathers mentioned in Eph. 6 are said to be exasperating. Their children are tired, discouraged and always failing to meet unreasonable expectations. Their sense of self-worth is low and are probably at a high risk of leaving the family.

Oh man....does this sound familiar?

This hits me right in my heart.

First of all, how have I been viewing God? Am I obedience-oriented to the point that I feel like a failure every time I am confronted with my own imperfection? Do I beat myself up every time I let an opportunity to share God's love pass by because I was too busy or too self-involved, for instance? Do I fear God will not forgive me because I did [fill in the blank of whatever moral imperfection you have]? Do I, deep down inside, find it hard to really believe that God has forgiven my sins? Do I expect punishment rather than grace? Admit it, we all have had moments like this. Some of us more than others.

And secondly, how do I view and interact with others? Do I, in my own way, exasperate others with an endless list of expectations? Do I remind them, usually quite indirectly of course, of the times they failed to do the best thing possible? Do I extend grace or mete out "punishment" when my fellow Christians (and yes, non-Christians!) hurt me or display behaviors that seem ungodly? Ouch.

Yes, God told earthly fathers not be exasperating fathers because He is not one Himself. God is authoritative without being authoritarian. There isn't anything He won't do for our well-being. He even went so far as to send His Son to die on the cross for us. He could have punished us all, but He isn't that sort of Dad.

Oh, and according to the same source on developmental psychology, children of parent#2 tend to be happy, capable and successful.* Isn't that what God intends for His children as well?

Wow...with such a wonderful Father, we have reason to rejoice. We have every reason to feel loved and encouraged. Every day is Father's Day.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#5 Acts 5: 38-39 "Can't Stop Me Now!"

"Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

For many Christians, the name Gamaliel may not be familiar. He is mentioned twice in the Book of Acts. Acts 22:3 tells us that he was the Apostle Paul's teacher. In this passage in Acts 5, Gamaliel is the voice of reason.

Acts 5 recounts a story when the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to silence the Apostles as they taught in Jesus' name. Throwing the Apostles in prison didn't work. An angel of the LORD opened the prison doors and freed them. Commanding their silence did no good, either. Peter and the Apostles refused by saying their obedience was primarily to God, and not man.

So, the Pharisees met and plotted to have them all killed. Under natural circumstances, they probably would have succeeded.

But they didn't.....thanks to the words and reason of Gamaliel.

Gamaliel recounted a couple of instances when a persuasive leader had gathered many followers toward his philosophy. But once that leader died, his devotees scattered, no longer adhering to their late leaders' teachings.

If these followers of Jesus are like that, then their philosophy or religion will die with Him in good time. But, if this is genuine, then you don't want to find yourselves fighting God.

And considering this "religion" of Jesus has continued for over 2000 years, I'd say the Pharisees were correct in listening to Gamaliel. The Apostles of the early church certainly demonstrated that their faith, and their Messiah, were the real thing.

I have yet to be threatened with death for being a follower of Christ. In our country, where we enjoy freedom of religion, Christianity is certainly not a risk factor for death or imprisonment. But I do feel like I am being silenced at times. No, the pressure to remain a silent and inconspicuous disciple of Jesus is not legal or physical. I believe it is much more subtle.

No stones have ever been hurled at me. But, there are times I hurl those stones at myself...those stones of fear and shame. I talk myself out of speaking the truth, because I'm taught it's bad to offend anyone. I talk myself out of doing the right thing, because it seems to hard, or too inconvenient.

And yes, I could probably even talk myself out of believing, because sometimes God seems silent and absent.

But, thank God, He and His work cannot be stopped. God's purposes will go on, not because I am so brave, loving, committed or heart strong. It will go on because God is God. He will triumph, not because of me, but (usually) in spite of me.

As Gamaliel reminded the Pharisees, if someone's work is not of God, it will ultimately fail. But if it IS of God, no man can stop it. I too often feel like a failure. I have never done anything "great." My speeches would not fill a large arena, prompting hundreds of folks to race down the aisle to declare their faith in Christ.

I've built no orphanages, published no best-selling books on the Christian life, nor founded my own world-wide ministry to feed the poor or heal the sick.

But, I am called by God to serve Him nonetheless. My sphere of influence is small. I am not well-known in my community or even in my modest-sized church. But I still have a job to do for His kingdom. It might be cleaning up the mess someone left on the floor at the church, it might be spending a little time with a child in need of love and understanding...or it might be silently praying for that friend or stranger who suddenly finds herself out of work.

I fear failure....but more than that, I fear being insignificant. Gamaliel's words in Acts 5 reminds me that, whatever work I am doing in Jesus' name, if this is what He has asked me to do, I cannot be stopped. If someone tries, then he is fighting against God. It doesn't matter if God calls me to preach to millions, or to silently help one individual. If I am doing God's unstoppable work, that is my defense, that is my proof that God is real and that is where my significance lies.

I thank God for calling me to His work, however humble it may be. In God's workforce, size does NOT matter. What matters is what is in your heart, and how close to God's heart it is. The work will follow.