January 2015


He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Mark 4: 40

 

Jesus asks this of His band of closest followers at a very rough moment (literally so) in their newly established relationship with Him. They are in a small open boat out on a sea that has suddenly become quite rough. The boat was taking on water and would have been hard to control. Most of them would have known other men who had been caught by similar weather conditions and had not come back to land alive. This is a real life situation that becomes another of Jesus’ parables for us.

 

We all find ourselves in the center of the storm. Everyone jumps into the boat with the intention of enjoying the short journey across the lake with the breeze fresh on the face and the sun setting brilliantly over the far shoreline. On some days it all goes just as the advertising says that it should. However, there are those days. The ones where the breeze turns on you and starts to sting like it is tearing at your skin, that moment when the smooth sway of the boat becomes a fear-filled amusement park ride, that hour when balance is lost and faith is tested.

 

Fear is normal. It is natural and it is human. Fear can lead us into using our greatest resources and strengths to make order out of chaos. It can also paralyze and confuse us so that we are far more likely to be overwhelmed and overtaken by the peril that we are facing. Christ tells us that in His presence we have no reason to fear. People who truly know God because they are in a relationship with Christ are given the presence of Christ in the person of His Spirit. He is with us, walking in and through every moment of life with us, so that there is nothing that we experience or encounter that is outside of God’s knowledge, provision and response. So, as we have faith that God cares for us, His children, absolutely and that He will take us through whatever it is that we face in the safety of His loving embrace, we can enter the storm with fearless anticipation of the mighty work that Christ is doing in our lives.

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Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12: 1

 

It seems to me that the time that is showing on the clock doesn’t matter and my schedule for the day is unimportant, for my true state of mind and heart comes from inside of me. Regardless of the external situation and circumstances, there are too many days when I just don’t see so clearly. These are the times when the words that I keep repeating to myself are words of discouragement and doubt. These are the days that are marked by more disability than by empowerment. The crazy thing about all of this is that the negativity that becomes so all encompassing and that pervades every corner of my mind is mostly self-generated. I become my own worst enemy, and Satan is simply delighted when I do this.

 

Christ wants me to remember the fact that He has surrounded me with people who have walked through the same sort of life course as I have. Their experiences are recorded in His word from its inception. He has literally filled my world with real, skin-wearing, and honest individuals who struggle and weep, who fall down and get back up, and who give in to sin and still end the day victorious. God wants me to look outwardly and to see the lives of others so that I won’t become so inwardly focused that I can’t see His glorious path for my life and hear His voice encouraging me to embrace it fully.

 

We are intended to go through this life in the company of others. God designed us to live in community and to be contributors to that group, also. I need to keep reminding myself that when the doubt starts to form and I begin to become oppressed and overwhelmed by life, there is a large historical and current family that I belong to. They are with me as I travel along each and every step of today’s path. Additionally, it is my privilege and my responsibility to join others in their journey, for together we have the strength to keep going all the way to the finish.

 

The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the awesome, and the mighty God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

Deuteronomy 10: 17

 

O how we desire an honest, just, and trustworthy leader! Someone who continually seeks to do what is best for the people and who does it because it is right in God’s eyes. Yet we also desire that our leaders be powerful enough to get and to hold onto all that we think we need and want. They should be attentive to our expressions of want and they must look the part, too. We don’t want to be represented by people who don’t dress, talk, and portray themselves as we would like to be perceived ourselves. Frequently, we get exactly what we ask for.

 

When compared to God we all fall short of the standard. In God’s eyes there is no one who is greater or lesser in importance, stature, or significance. Christ joined all of us in life in this world, and He allowed Himself to be sacrificed in order to save all of humanity from our lost and broken state of existence. What we can do is accept Christ for who He is: Lord of lords, King of kings, and God the Almighty. He is the singular expression of the way for us to live in the total presence of God. Christ is our true hope, and His real and demonstrable presence in the lives of people should be our benchmark for their capacity to lead justly.

 

Money cannot buy justice. It has no tangible price; yet, it is precious beyond counting. The path to being a just and a compassionate person comes with the price of self. We need to be willing to give up our vain and futile striving for power and risk our identity and our security in order to begin to understand what it means to care for our world as God does. True and effective leadership in this world begins with recognition of God as the one and the only true king. It is founded on absolute and total loyalty to the Father. Righteous leaders must be submissive to Christ. Without that profound and fundamental yielding of heart and mind to God, no one has even the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to lead. We don’t need power for it belongs to God. We don’t require fame for all of the glory belongs to God. We don’t need financial gain for, in Christ, we possess all of the riches of heaven.

 

He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53: 5

 

When we are sick or injured it is not at all hard to accept the idea that somehow it could all be made better. Whatever the cure, if the pain is severe enough, we are usually willing to accept that cost in order to be whole again. Some of these health concerns just improve and go away with the passage of time. Others require the skillful care of doctors or even extreme medical procedures in order to get them under control. There are still other situations where we will live with the illness or the disability for the rest of our lives. Finally, some conditions end this life. In each of these situations, the person who is suffering and those close to her desire some form of healing.

 

Underlying all of these illnesses is a more fundamental and a deeply profound form of brokenness. This is that fatal rogue gene that was introduced into the DNA of our world through the selfish desire of our ancestors to take full control, to “be like God”. Just like all other challenges and struggles in this life, our physical pain and disease serves one great purpose. Although God does not cause it, our suffering can serve to bring us closer to Him. God responds in love and compassion when Satan attempts to cause us to focus our attention on ourselves by filling us with the fear and the anxiety that comes naturally when we are sick or injured. Christ speaks into these troubled times with a voice that assures us that He has been there before us and that He is here with us in and through it all.

 

Whatever pain we may be feeling, Christ has endured it twenty fold. However doubt and concern may cast their shadows across our hearts, God’s word responds in abundance. From that dark and catastrophic day at the beginning of history when humanity’s suffering and separation from God was conceived, God has provided the cure to everything that brings about suffering and pain in our bodies and in our souls. Christ was present in the decision that God made to sacrifice Him for our sakes, and He engaged the life that lead to that permanent solution to our brokenness with complete and passionate surrender to the will of the Father. Our bodies are temporary, yet they are important to God. He does provide the healing and the relief from pain that is required for us to live out His plan for us; yet, He is far more concerned with the state of our hearts and our minds. We can take it upon the absolute assurance of God that, through Christ, He has healed us from everything that truly requires a cure.

 

 

And the Lord humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8: 3

 

Hunger is a very big deal. For most of us it is something that we can take charge of and do something about. However, for over 805 million people in the world today hunger is an unrelenting and often defining aspect of life (World Food Program). When we are hungry there is little else that can fill our minds beyond the basic drive to acquire food. In the situation that Moses was describing, God fed His people, but He was really demonstrating something even more basic than our need for food.

 

When people do not know God, His word is truly a foreign language. The shapes of the letters, the words of the vocabulary, and the structure of the sentences may all be normal and ordinary. Yet, the meaning of the words and phrases is beyond grasping at anything other than a rudimentary level. There is something mystical and wonderful in the way that God, Himself, speaks out of the pages of the text and reveals Himself through that same text. The Spirit of Christ seems to come out of the page and into the mind of His people, and the words speak into our hearts in ways that are beyond simple human reason.

 

Words that were previously unknown become clear, and we adopt them as our own language as their author, God, becomes known to us. This is a process that continues throughout life, for there are times when I will encounter portions of God’s word where His meaning and intent are truly obscure. These are usually times when God is telling me to “Be still” and to listen to His voice and to seek His understanding. The Lord will show me His will and counsel me in the desires of His heart. He will take that foreign morsel and craft an exquisite banquet feast out of it. This is the sort of feeding that leads the diner to a real and actionable understanding of God’s intent to see that all forms of food are provided to those who are hungry in spirit.

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Mark 3: 35

 

When Jesus says this, He is making a bold statement. These were powerful words in His culture, and they still are today. Our natural families are important. However, Jesus forcefully states that His allegiance and His trust are vested in a different set of people who He now claims and proclaims to be His true family. This is at least somewhat confusing in that God’s word is peppered with comments about honoring our parents and treating our children with respect. So, what do I think Jesus is telling us?

 

It is my understanding that Jesus is saying that the transformation that happens when we accept Him and enter into a relationship with God is total, complete, and absolute. We are new creatures in Christ. This newness includes everything in and about us. No part of our being is left out. Certainly there is old mixed in with the new, but our identity is transformed from that of one who is spiritually dead to that of a person with an eternal soul and a God infused outlook. All of our relationships are framed in a different perspective, and this includes those with our families.

 

Certainly our natural, human families are still important. In fact, according to God’s desire for the way that we enter into relationships, they should gain new priority and renewed elements of love, grace, mercy, and peace making. Yet, in Christ we gain much more. His followers are adopted together into a large and very extended family of faith by and through the deeply profound spiritual bond that is formed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us individually and among God’s people as we gather. This new family can and should be the place where we go to receive support, encouragement and Godly wisdom. It is also the community that we can join with in seeking to follow God’s will and calling for our lives.

Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

John 7: 37, 38

 

We all thirst. Everyone experiences times when our throats become dry to the point of pain, and our hearts become parched until there is no strength left in us. Life can be draining. it sucks the vital fluids from our cells until we feel as if we are going to collapse in on ourselves. Then, even if we receive a touch of mist that promises to revive us, the fierce wind of discouragement starts to blow, and the mist evaporates before any of its dew has soaked into our flesh. So, when Jesus asks if anyone is thirsty, He already knows that this is true of everyone.

 

Christ is the answer to whatever form of thirst we may have. He provides the cooling and rejuvenating liquid that is His Spirit, and the Lord gives us the gift of a bottomless and everlasting well filled with the sweet taste of His grace, mercy, and love. God’s Spirit becomes our own continual source of life sustaining water for our souls. Even in times of drought there is no lack of supply. Christ remains with His people and in our lives through all of our disasters, both natural and self-inflicted. You see, He is always with us, for He resides in our hearts.

 

When the thirst becomes unbearable and life becomes unsustainable, Christ’s disciples can look inside to the His Spirit. We can also be encouraged and gain the knowledge that leads us to His will from God’s Word. In times of great thirst, Christ calls on us to take comfort in His presence; then, we can start to recover from the struggle of life while He cleanses, refreshes, and restores us with the living water of God’s perfect love.

 

 

 

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