What Do You Do When the Storm Comes?

storm

Luke 8:22-25 (NIV)

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

 

In this account from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus simply invited the disciples to sail with Him to the other side of the lake, but He said nothing about the fact that they would go through a storm before they got to the other side.  As they set out across the water, Jesus even fell asleep.  Eventually a terrible storm arose, and the disciples panicked.  The distress among the disciples rose to sheer terror as the wind and waves threatened to overturn the vessel.  The disciples rush to Jesus, still asleep and seemingly oblivious to the impending danger.  They awaken Him with fear and panic in their voices: “Master, Master, we’re going to die!”  Jesus responds by simply rising and rebuking the storm.  Then He turns to His disciples and rebukes them for their unbelief.  They are left in awe of His power but still fearful, this time of Jesus himself.

One would think that the disciples would have great faith by this time.  After all, they had witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus to perform miracles, but the reality is that they failed to demonstrate faith time and time again in the Gospel narratives.  This story is no exception.  It is easy for us to criticize the disciples, but if we are honest, we have had the same type of response as the storms of life have arisen and threatened to shipwreck us.  We tend to panic as we focus on the storm and not on the One who is able to calm the storm.  No matter the situation or struggle, whether at home or in the workplace, we are to look up and fix our eyes on God.  He will certainly see us through the wind and waves, even if it does not look like it at the moment.

 

What are some storms you are facing right now in your life?

How are you responding?

What would change if you felt a growing ability to fix your eyes on Jesus in the storm?

How could you cultivate that ability?

I have found that in my life, when the hard times come, that is when I am drawn to God the most.  In those times I actually feel the closest to God and because of that, I feel great comfort and protection.  Because of this, it gives me great strength and courage to weather the storm and see it through.  God is the rock that I keep myself attached to, which keeps me from getting blown away.  I know that I can make it through anything as long as I stay connected to God.  What a comfort it is to have that kind of security in a world where you can’t fully count on anything else.

 

 

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Be a Person God Can Use

peter

Acts 2:14-36 (NIV)

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’Matthew 16:16

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

 

When Jesus called him to a life of discipleship and service, Peter left his fishing career to become a leader in the church at Jerusalem.  We can learn so much from both the high and low points of his transformation.

Peter publicly acknowledged that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.  When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed He was, Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  We find this response in the following verse:

Matthew 16:16 (NIV)

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter boldly confessed his faith in front of the other disciples and didn’t hold back for fear of their opinion.

In a similar way, the basis for our identity, both in public as well as in private, ought to be that we are followers of Christ.  Our words and actions should proclaim to those around us that we belong to Him.

After Christ’s arrest, Peter’s faith faultered.  When he was challenged about having been with Jesus, he denied it.  Just as Jesus had predicted, the apostle refused three separate times to acknowledge their relationship.  How bitterly Peter wept about what he had done.  We see the whole scene played out in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 26:69-75 (NIV)

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

But following the resurrection, Jesus forgave Peter and then called him to love the “lost sheep” of the world.

John 21:15-17 (NIV)

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

After being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter began his ministry by sharing the gospel with thousands of people.  Through God’s power, many were saved.

Acts 2:6-11, 41 (NIV)

 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter is a good example of the type of person our heavenly Father can use.  He is looking for someone with strengths and weaknesses, who learns from mistakes and is surrendered to the Lord for His purposes.  Have you committed yourself to following God’s plan for your life?  If so, God has all kinds of plans for using you for His kingdom.  What a great honor it is indeed to be able to serve our Creator!

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Avoid Being a Distant Leader

Dan 3

2 Samuel 11:1-5 (NIV)

11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joabout with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

 

John 10:11-14 (NIV)

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

 

In 2 Samuel 11, David didn’t go off to war, as most kings did during the springtime; instead, he sent others out to do the fighting and remained at home in Jerusalem.  While at home, he fell into terrible sin with Bathsheba, but the king’s sin didn’t start when he committed adultery with her.  It didn’t start with his seeing her bathing from his roof.  It started when David tried to lead his army from a distance.

Most of us face the temptation to chase after the authority of leadership, but not the responsibility.  Who doesn’t love being the one who gets the say?  Who doesn’t hate being the one who gets the blame?  There is no positive biblical role model for distant leadership.  David’s example reveals the dangers to us when it comes to leading from a distance.

God perfectly modeled close leadership for us in the form of Jesus.  Christ came down and dwelt among us.  He became our Immanuel “God with us.”  But then He laid down His life for us as the Good Shepherd.

When we practice biblical leadership, we are intimately involved in the lives of those under our care.  We aren’t using them as stepping stones for our advancement; instead we are helping them become building blocks for God’s kingdom by our encouragement and presence.  They are spurred on in the roles that God has given them because they recognize our sacrifice on their behalf.

If we stay behind the fray, we demonstrate a lack of desire to serve those for whom we are responsible.  Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.  Leaders serve, and you can’t do that from a distance.  Nor can you serve if you are hungry for power or control.  But, if leaders become servants, investing in the well-being of those under their care, it would make a real impact.

Max Dupree, an American business leader in the 19th century, once said, “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.”

I want us to take a minute and try to think about a servant leader we have known in our lives.  How would you describe them?  What was it like to be led by them?

For me, I think of Dan McCarney.  Dan was a great leader because he would always come to you at a level that you could understand.  He never asked us to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.  He always stood beside us and never tried to tower over us.  We always knew that he had our backs no matter what.  He may get mad at us at times, but he always had our very best interests in mind.  When I think of a great servant leader, I think of Dan.

Have you ever been tempted to use the people you led?  What have been some benefits of serving those you have led?  As we are put into roles of leadership, we should try to be servant leaders and lead those we are leading, like we would want to be led.  We need to lead like Jesus did.  May we love those we lead just a Jesus has loved us.

 

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How to React to Difficult Times

door

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.  You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

– Walt Disney

 

Who among us has not been kicked in the teeth by life?  We all have.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all wearing dentures. Like a pop-up violent thunderstorm on an otherwise beautiful day, this is how we grow as people.  Or, it’s how we fall apart.  Finding courage amongst the rubble is the key that unlocks our growth.  How we react means everything.

A couple of years ago, my wife Steph and I fell into one of these storms.  Some of it was our own doing, and some of it stemmed from having our first child, Matthew.  Marriage can be a difficult thing even when things are going good.  If you pile on all the responsibilities, short nights, and trying to figure out how to be a parent for the first time, things can seem pretty overwhelming.  Both Steph and I were focusing our time and energy on Matthew and not as much on each other.  This is natural to do this for first-time parents, but by not devoting enough time on each other, a separation started to form between us.  There was a lot of frustration and resentment on both of our parts.  It took some serious soul-searching and work on both of our parts to get things back to a state where we could co-exist in a more civil, loving, and less self-centered manner.

This wedge that formed between us could have led to the end of our marriage, but instead, we choose to rise above and learn from our situation and put in the work needed to stay together.  We are not fully past it, and we still have days we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we are in a much better place than we were.  Marriage is hard, but so worth everything you put into it.

How do we react in life’s hard moments?  Here is some advice I would offer anyone facing difficult times.

Find the High Road and Stay There

After the rescue, damage control is the first thing to do in an emergency.  If a building is burning, the attempt is made to contain the fire to that one location.  Our initial reactions to tough moments are going to determine how much worse it gets.  If we lash out in anger and act irrationally, the whole block is going to be set on fire.  Breathe. Find the high road and immediately place yourself on it.  Experience is a great teacher.  If you’ve ever burned a block down figuratively, you know.  Only a fool would do that again.

Self-Analyzing and Correcting

This is a critical step in personal growth.  It requires honest self-awareness and taking responsibility for our actions. Once the event is contained, it’s time to analyze deeply where and what went wrong.  How did our behavior help or hinder the situation?  Where were we at fault?  Most importantly, what are the valuable lessons we can learn so we can move forward?

Learning How to Forgive

If you’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, you know that within it, we ask to be forgiven.  We are all good at that. However, the very next sentence, we also pledge to be the one forgiving.  Therein lies the key to moving on to happier moments.  Holding grudges and seeking revenge are first-rate life destroyers.  It’s common sense.  The best revenge is living well.  That means forgiving, even if it’s only for your own benefit.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

What parent hasn’t uttered this to their children?  Do we heed our own advice?  We should be loving and friendly to all people.  However, the people we surround ourselves with will directly reflect the type of life we are leading. Being a performer of fine art and cultural significance is a wonderful thing.  Living drama in real life is a much different story.  Separate the two and learn from poor choices.

Finding the Courage to Move Forward

It’s hard.  Whenever we are in one of these moments, things seem worse than they are.  It feels like the whole world has crashed down.  How are we going to keep going?  What will we do now?  Walt Disney went on to become Walt Disney.  Pretty substantial.  He had the courage to move to the next.  At one of my lowest points in life, my dad told me, “Son, there isn’t much advice I can give you right now.  All I can tell you is that you keep moving forward.  You wake up.  You get dressed.  You eat.  You go to work.  You go to sleep.  And repeat.  It always gets better, I promise.”

Life is a roller coaster of emotions.  There are some euphoric highs, but there are also lows.  No one likes to experience the lows, but remember, we learn some of life’s greatest lessons during the difficult times.  If we can face our difficult times head on and find the high road, self-analyze, correct, learn how to forgive, choose our friends wisely, and find the courage to move forward, we will find that we almost always end up in a better place than before the storm hit us.

Sometimes a door has to close before another door will open.  If difficult times never come, it is very hard to grow and become a better person.  I think Walt had it right all along.  I think all of us need a kick in the teeth from time to time.

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Forgiveness: Tough but Necessary

forgiveness3

Genesis 50:19-21 (NIV)

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for help in the midst of a devastating famine, he could have tossed them out of the country or something even worse.  They had once been so jealous of their father’s love for Joseph that they contemplated killing him before eventually selling him into slavery and into what they likely assumed would be a life of misery.

None of them could have known that Joseph would rise to become the second-most powerful man in the county, behind only Pharaoh himself.  Imagine what it must have been like for Joseph to see his brothers come before him in obvious need.  Rather than exacting some sort of revenge, Joseph forgave his brothers for the terrible things they had done to him

John Flavel, an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author, who lived in the 1600’s once said, “Sometimes God makes use of instruments for good to His people, who designed nothing but evil and mischief for them.  Thus Joseph’s brethren were instrumental to his advancement in that very thing in which they designed his ruin.”

When you’ve been wronged, it sometimes hurts profoundly.  You might be tempted to lash out in retaliation against the one who hurt you.  As difficult as it is, though, Christians are called to forgive.  Joseph’s story is a good illustration of forgiveness, and Jesus should be our ultimate example.  Can you think of someone, or maybe even a few people, whom you should consider forgiving?  Taking that first step might be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but it’s an important step that demonstrates love and obedience to God.

As we consider the idea of forgiveness, ask yourself these questions:

Why do you think God wants us to forgive those who have wronged us?

What keeps us from forgiving others?

Giving some serious thought to these two questions can give you a real indicator of where your heart lies.  If you are struggling with being able to forgive others, ask God to help you.  He wants what is best for you and would love to help you in this particular area of your life.

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Obstacles to Effective Prayer (Part 2)

obstacles 2

In Part 1, we discussed several reasons why a prayer may seem to go unanswered.  The reasons discussed were wavering faith, wrong motives, conflict in relationships, lack of generosity, and indifference.

 

Psalm 17:1-6 (NIV)

A prayer of David.

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
    listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
    may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart,
    though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
    my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
    through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
    my feet have not stumbled.

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.

 

In this blog, I would like to consider some more possibilities as to why prayer may seem to go unanswered.

One of those is unconfessed sin.  God promises to forgive us once we admit our action is wrong and turn away from it.  He tells us that in the Bible:

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

But if our confession is mere lip service or we persist in ungodly ways, our petitions to God will likely go unanswered.  An unrepentant heart always hinders our prayer life.

What about those times when our heart is right and what we ask God is in line with His will, but He still remains silent?  Sometimes He waits because our longing for Him is in danger of being replaced by our own desire for something else.  Certain petitions (such as a request for a spouse, baby, or a loved one’s healing) can generate strong emotions in us.  Unless we are careful, these desires can divert our attention from God.  God is not willing to share first place in our hearts with anyone or anything else.  So sometimes He patiently waits for our focus to return to Him before He answers.

At other times, God uses delays to prepare us for future service or greater blessing.  He could be protecting us from consequences we fail to see at the time, or He may want to strengthen our trust in Him.  Strong faith means believing Him even in trials, persevering while awaiting an answer, and being confident that He always keeps promises.

Prayer is the communication link between us and our loving Father.  Instead of letting “static” block His message to us, we need to confess and turn all know sin to Him.  Then we’ll be able to hear God’s voice and obediently carry out whatever it is He is asking us to do.  Also, keep in mind, if He does not answer your prayer right away, there is probably a good reason for it.  Just be patient and know that God wants the very best for you, even when you don’t always want that for yourself.

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Obstacles to Effective Prayer (Part 1)

prayer 2

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Some of King David’s prayers are recorded in the Psalms.  There we can read how he praised God, confessed sin, and cried out about his troubles.  He also asked God to hear his prayers and not be silent.  We all want to pray effectively like David did.  To do this however, we need to avoid certain obstacles that can hinder the effectiveness of our prayers, such as:

Wavering Faith

Doubts about God’s character or dependability diminish our trust in Him.  Therefore we must not allow feelings to dictate what we believe.

 

Wrong Motives

James 4:3 (NIV)

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Petitions motivated by selfish desires won’t receive a yes from God.  He wants us to pray for His will to be done, not ours.

 

Conflict in Relationships

Being resentful or argumentative with others will affect our communication with God.

 

Lack of Generosity

Proverbs 21:13 (NIV)

13 Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
    will also cry out and not be answered.

God is displeased when we ignore people’s needs or give begrudgingly to the church.  He hears us asking for a blessing yet he sees us refusing to obey Him in our giving.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV)

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

 

Indifference

Proverbs 28:9 (NIV)

If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction,
    even their prayers are detestable.

Apathy to the Scriptures is another stumbling block.  God has given us the Bible so that we might know Him and serve Him wholeheartedly.  Failure to read and apply His Word consistently will diminish our ability to maintain a godly lifestyle.

 

It takes effort and commitment to develop a strong prayer life, but the rewards are great.  If your prayers have not been answered, consider if any of the above issues may need correction.  Then, start by personalizing the prayers you read in the Psalms or elsewhere in God’s Word.

Remember that God will grant us anything we ask for, but only if what we are asking for is in line with God’s will.  Having a close relationship with God, through studying and mediating on the Bible and then trying to live it out, will put us into that flow of God’s will and then our prayers will be much more likely to be answered.  God only wants the very best for you, do you?

Be sure to read Part 2 of this blog to check out some more obstacles to our prayers.  Everyone have a great weekend!

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