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Archive for February, 2012

How much does God have to do for me before I get it into my thick head that I can trust him?

 

In Mark 6, Jesus just finished feeding thousands from a couple loaves and fillet-o-fish, then sent his disciples on ahead by boat so he could spend time praying to the Father. For his twelve guys, most likely. A little later, from the lakeshore, he saw the men out on the lake being tossed in a storm.

 

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.

Jesus watched them straining against the battering winds all night. I think he was waiting to see what they would do. (Actually, I think he prayed for God to send the storm). It wasn’t until nearly daybreak that he went ahead and crossed the lake himself.

And yet . . .

He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

So they were in trouble and he went out to them . . . but only to pass on by?

 

Why?

 

When we’re in ship-battering, peace-stealing situations, and God doesn’t seem to be near, don’t we sometimes wonder where he is, if he’s even paying attention? Wonder what he’s doing?

 

How would our prayers change if we knew he was standing on the shore all along, just watching, waiting?

Waiting for what?

 

Immediately, he said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.

Ahh. Look at our compassionate Savior. Jesus calmed the terrified men first, then the roaring waves.

And yet . . .

They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Why were their hearts hardened? Hadn’t they just witnessed his miraculous provision when he fed the thousands?

 

Maybe they suffered from the same heart condition I do: a thick-skulled, hard-hearted lack of faith. They witnessed Jesus coming through every time, yet they (I) hadn’t allowed this truth to sink in, to penetrate them (me) enough to leave a permanent imprint.

 

Why did Jesus wait so long to go to them? Maybe they needed to see how helpless they were so that they would grasp his ultimate power and faithfulness. Maybe they needed to invite him into their straining boat and witness his trustworthiness in a way that would score their stony little hearts, begin the softening they were going to need for the storms to come.

 

Truth is, I know all about hard hearts. I struggle constantly to have a heart like Jesus, so I won’t criticize these guys. I’ve missed countless chances to trust God in many a situation. Taken matters into my own hands, ran my mouth, worried. Reached for chocolate or Krispy Kreme instead of surrendering and praying, seeking the Lord’s presence and his word. The more I row against the wind, the more I realize I don’t fully trust Jesus because if I did, I’d probably be slower to stress out, pig out, zone out, criticize, complain, give in to depression, etc, and maybe a little quicker to obey his nudges to do stuff I’m not comfortable doing. (eh…is comfort an idol? Ouch.)

 

Sometimes . . . I despair of ever changing.

Thank God that in his grace and love, it’s not up to me to change. I only need to trust Jesus enough to invite him into the boat.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

 

Please, Lord  –   I’d like a

new heart — not the blood pumping

kind, but the kind that hungers for God

with an unbearable ache. A heart that

breaks over lost souls and only sees

people the way God sees them

A pure heart too blinded by

grace to criticize, too

saddened by sin to

contemplate

it—

 

(I’d like that a lot.)

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It’s so nice to have an appreciative spouse who thanks me for taking care of the bills or for keeping our kids from playing in the toilets while he’s at work. (Well, mostly when they were toddlers—it’s not so much an issue now that they’re in college.) But for the skills that come naturally to me, I don’t need kudos to stoke my confidence or keep me motivated. It’s the things I sweat and struggle at (like novel-writing) that need affirmation to keep me pushing myself, keep me believing.

I’d like to say I’m skilled at the important things—the kinds of things that will follow me into eternity. Things like beginning every day with Jesus and the Word. Feeding the hungry. Praying faithfully. Sharing the hope I have in Christ and the endless grace he’s shown to my wretched self. Loving other wretched folk.

But I’m not skilled at these things. I try and I fail, I try harder and fail some more. I make some progress too, but I’m not where I’d like to be. Does this mean God wouldn’t want to use me? Or that I’m off the hook?

This passage in Exodus caught my eye this week. After the unfortunate golden calf incident, God instructed his people to build him a tabernacle. Scripture says: “and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD . . .” (35:21)

The passage goes on to list the items people brought. Some brought stuff like gold (guess there was still some left), costly purple linens, and gems; others offered their talents and skills. All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought their freewill offerings for the work of the Lord.  It doesn’t say all who were rock stars or room-lighter-uppers—it says all who were willing. Those who had, brought; those with skills offered their abilities. The cool part I see in this is the people needed each others’ offerings to get the job done.

I wonder if we hesitate to offer God our resources or abilities because ours isn’t a “rock star” kind of offering. Maybe you’re good at crunching numbers. Or car-detailing. Or couponing. Or taking things apart and figuring out how to fix them. Maybe you’re good at scrapbooking, analyzing market trends, baking cookies, people-watching, or keeping toddlers from playing in the toilet. Maybe your ability is to work and earn money.

1 Corinthians 12:14-21 says:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Maybe your abilities may seem random at best, and disconnected from the important work of God’s kingdom. But God sees all this from a very different vantage point. He sees the total package—including you—as the body of Christ functioning together as whole. An intricately woven, masterfully designed whole.

Maybe the real value of our gifts lie not in the gifts themselves, but in our willingness to offer them to the Lord. Like working on a scrapbook with an elderly neighbor who is facing an uncertain eternity.

In faith, the Israelites each came willingly—butchers, bakers, scrapbook makers—and offered their part, just whatever they had.

So share what you have, offer what you know, bring that crazy good thing you do to Jesus. Get a little nuts and think outside the box. This is your offering, your act of worship, holy and pleasing to the Lord.

She who has a willing heart, let her come.

Question: What do you think? Do you have a hard time seeing significant purpose or eternal value in your abilities? Do you believe God gave you your abilities, right down to the quirkiest quirk?

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I want a Kindle Fire.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to run out and jump on the latest trend or pine over the newest gadget. But the Kindle Fire is cool – like an iPad for half the bucks. One of those would be nice. I could see saving my pennies and getting one someday. And I’m cool with someday. Or I was until I looked around and realized EVERYONE has one. I am not kidding. Grannies. Old guys who don’t even use cell phones. Kids. LITTLE kids. Triplet toddlers, each one drooling on their own.

I’m a little disgruntled about this. Yes, I could scrape up $200 meant for something more important and just get one and leave envy behind, have my toy and be happy like Grannie and the droolers. Or I could quit wishing I had something cool just because others have it, listen to the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and cultivate contentment.

Okay, Paul wasn’t talking about gadgets, so let’s get real.  This is about a spiritual state, a calm in the midst of a storm, resting in peace when circumstances stir up anything but peace. Loss of a loved one. Health issues. True shortage, like a job loss. A broken relationship.

Recently, I shared some thoughts on contentment with our Wednesday night Bible class and asked people what it would take for them to feel content. Absence of stress? More money? Less poundage? Better friends? A more understanding mate?

Unfortunately, putting all our expectations or our need for fulfillment on people or stuff or circumstances will lead to discontent because eventually circumstances will go awry, or our health will fail, or people will let us down. The only one who won’t fail us is Jesus. He’s the only one who gives us what can’t be taken away.

We live in a world that breeds discontent. Think about magazine ads, movies, TV, commercials. Advertising is carefully designed to make us unhappy with everything we have: our job, wardrobe, figure, finances, car, spouse, home. You name it: anything you have, marketing pros are hard at work to convince you it’s not good enough.

When discontent is allowed to thrive, we find ourselves becoming resentful and dissatisfied and if that goes on, it leads to depression. Not only that, it can lead to something far more serious. Satan feeds on our discontent because it’s contrary to God’s design. God in his love and and artistry created us to experience joy and delight, and ultimately, He wants us to find our joy and delight in Him. Remember the Garden of Eden? Satan suggested to Eve that God was holding out something better from her, planting a seed of discontent in her heart. Discontent is really the fruit of something else:

Distrust. 

Sadly, God is so faithful and doesn’t deserve that. When we grumble and complain about our situation or what we don’t have, it’s like we’re accusing God of not taking care of us, or saying he doesn’t really know what we need. Eve’s discontent led her to sin. And we are in danger of the same.

God is always good and always trustworthy. We may not understand what’s going on when we’re in a tough spot, but we can always trust that God will do what’s right. He promises to provide for us. He also knows what we face. He knows all about evil bosses and stubborn kids and imperfect mates and overdue bills and health problems and all the things that we can’t control. He knows where we are and he’s not a bit surprised.

Just a thought to consider: in our turmoil, we might be exactly where he wants us. And no matter where we are—even if we’re in prison like Paul—the Word of God calls us to be content.

Let’s look at Philippians 4:4-13

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13I can do all things  through Him who strengthens me.

At the time Paul wrote this, he was a prisoner in a Roman jail. Probably not the most ideal situation. Yet he was content. Where did his contentment come from? Political popularity? Living the American dream? A competitive retirement package? No. Go back a chapter and look at Phil 3:7-8.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.  

Paul found his greatest gain, his greatest treasure in knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. He didn’t blame anyone for his circumstances. He found peace with his lot in life no matter what his life looked like.

With or without a Kindle Fire.

How are you doing? Do you battle with discontent? Have you ever dealt with the depression that comes from being in those hard circumstances outside your control? If so, have you been able to overcome it?

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