FACING YOUR RED SEA IN FAITH

It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)

With each step out of the land of Egypt, the Israelites must have tasted their freedom more and more. God was leading them away from the place in which they had been enslaved for generations. And then it happened. They found themselves face to face with a watery dead end as they stood at the shore of the Red Sea. And then, to make matters worse, Pharaoh decided to pursue them in order to bring them back into captivity. As the Egyptian army, with its horses and its chariots, came into sight, the Israelites once again became slaves – not slaves to the Egyptians, but slaves to their fear. They cried out to God, complained to Moses, and began to think that they were better off when they lived as slaves to the Egyptians. But Moses had faith in God. “Do not fear!” he told the Israelites. Moses believed that God would not allow them to be recaptured, and God used Moses to part the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through on dry land before sending the pursuing Egyptian army to its watery grave (Exodus 14:1-31).

God provided a way for the Israelites to escape their captors and their fears. He made a way through the obstacle in front of them and away from the fear that pursued them. The way through the Red Sea was provided by God, but it required something on the part of the Israelites. In Exodus 14:16, God told Moses that he was to lift up his staff, stretch his hand over the sea, and divide the water, and that the Israelites were to walk through the sea on dry land. God’s way through the problem facing the Israelites required faith. Moses had to believe that what God said would happen would come to pass. He had to believe that the laws of nature would be bent and that the water would roll back, exposing dry land so that the Israelites could pass through. He had to believe that the water would be held back long enough for every one of them to make it through to the other side, ahead of the pursuing Egyptian army. And then they had to step out in that faith.

We all face a Red Sea at some point in our lives. The entire world is facing a Red Sea right now with the COVID-19 outbreak. And that Red Sea is fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression caused by isolation. But here’s the thing, as we face this Red Sea, we have a choice. We can stand in front of it and allow ourselves to become slaves to that fear, that hopelessness, that anxiety and depression. Or, we can seek God’s help, asking Him to help us through by parting our Red Sea. When we reach out to God, He will provide a way through our difficulties. That way could be miraculous, as God eradicates the virus. Or God may simply give each of us the strength, hope, courage, or comfort that we need to face the situation we are in. The parting of the Red Sea required faith on the part of Moses and the Israelites. Seeing our Red Sea part requires the same from us. We need to believe that God will make a way for us. And we need to step out in faith and walk through our difficulty in whatever way God directs.

Is COVID-19 leaving you at a standstill, facing the Red Sea of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression in which the enemy is trying to enslave you? Are the words that come from your heart, “God, if You can, please help me through this! I’m trying so hard to believe but look at what’s happening all around us!” If so, remember the words that the father of the demon-possessed boy cried out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Cry out to God to help you build the faith you need, allow Him to show you the way through your Red Sea, then step out in that faith into the freedom that waits on the other side.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

He’s with us through the storm

This is a post that I originally wrote in November 2019. It seemed quite appropriate to the crisis we are in with the COVID-19 outbreak, so I though I’d re-post it with a few changes to it. I pray that it will give hope to someone.

Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. (Matthew 14:22–32)

Storms are an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we can see them coming but, as with the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, they often take us by surprise, seemingly coming out of nowhere. And, although we may not see it as we are fighting against the wind and the waves that are tossing us to and fro, the storms we face in our lives serve a purpose. They help us to see that, no matter what storms we face in life, Jesus is right there with us, ready to help us to look past the wind and the waves. God’s Word tells us that He will be with us through deep waters, that when we “go through rivers of difficulty,” we will not drown (Isaiah 43:2). Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. When things look bleak, when hope is all but gone, He is always there, just waiting for us to reach out and take hold of His hand.

In Matthew 14, the disciples are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, heading toward Capernaum. Jesus is not with them, having stayed behind to pray. While the disciples are making their way across the water, a stormy gale kicks up and the disciples find themselves fighting against the wind and the waves. But, as they do, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. Jesus is walking right through their storm. Jesus had already shown the disciples that He had dominion over the storms of life when He calmed a storm in Matthew 8:23-27. And, now He was once again showing them that the storm that they faced was no match for Him as He walked to the disciples’ boat on the surface of the water – waves, wind, and all.

Peter was the first one to get it, although he apparently still had some doubts as he said, “Lord, if that’s really You, command me to walk on the water toward You.” And, when Jesus did just that, Peter took that step out of the boat, set his eyes on Jesus and walked on the water towards His Lord, forgetting about the wind and the waves that still surrounded him. When the storms of life begin to swirl around us, our first reaction may be to look to Jesus and, with some doubt in our hearts, pray, “Lord, if it’s possible, help me to walk through this storm I’m facing.” And then, like Peter, we set our eyes on Jesus and begin to make our way through the storm.

But, as he walked on the water towards Jesus, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and began to focus on the storm. Why? Maybe there was a sudden bolt of lightning or a loud crash of thunder that pulled Peter’s eyes off Jesus and set them on the storm that was still raging around him. Whatever caused Peter to once again focus on the storm and not on Jesus doesn’t matter. What matters is the result. When Peter began to allow the storm to become his focus, he began to sink. When we are facing a storm in life, as long as we keep our hearts and our minds focused on Jesus, He will help us walk through that storm. The storm may still be there, but He will help us through it. But when we allow doubts to creep in, when the storm once again grabs our attention, just as it did Peter, the storm will begin to pull us down. But there’s good news.

As Peter began to sink into the waters of the Sea of Galilee, he called out for Jesus to save him. And, as he did, the hand of Jesus reached out and pulled Peter back up. And here’s the best part. Jesus didn’t pick Peter up and carry him to the boat. Jesus didn’t get in the boat first and then pull Peter in. Holding onto Peter’s hand, Jesus walked Peter through the storm and back into the boat. In the midst of our storms, if we let doubts and fear creep in and pull our focus off Jesus, all we need to do is call out to Him. He will take us by the hand and will walk with us through the storm. In John 16:33, Jesus told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We will face storms in our lives. We are all facing one right now. But, when we look past the wind and waves and focus on Jesus in the midst of those storms, we can take heart. Jesus has overcome the world and He will help us to overcome those storms.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Why Do You Praise God?

“Praise God!”

“Praise the Lord!”

These are words that come easily off the lips of many of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. They seem as automatic as saying “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or saying “please” or “thank you.” But what if someone asked “Why do you praise God?” What would you say? Why do we praise Him? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for praising God. Well, for starters, we praise God because it’s what is commanded of His people. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” If we are living and breathing, we should be praising the Lord.

1 Chronicles 16:25 (NLT) says, “Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!” We praise God because He is worthy of our praise. In fact, He is the only one who is truly worthy of our praise, a truth we see in Deuteronomy 10:21 (NLT), which says, “He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.”

We praise God in response to His nature, the things that make God who He is. For His greatness (Psalm 150:2, NIV): “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness!” For His faithfulness (Psalm 57:9-10, NIV): “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” For His strength (Psalm 59:17, NIV): “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.”

We praise God in response to the things He has done. For the prayers that He hears and the prayers He answers (Psalm 66:19-20, NLT): “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” For sending His Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 1:68-70, NLT): “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.”

But perhaps one of the best reasons we can give for why we praise God is found in Psalm 105:1-2 (NLT): “Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.” We praise God so that the whole world will come to know Him and all that He has done for each and everyone of us because of His great love for us, a love that is clearly defined in the words of John 3:16-17 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sometimes We are the Miracle

When my wife, Linda, received her cancer diagnosis in 2019, we began praying. Our church began praying. Friends and family began praying. We began praying for what anyone in our situation would pray for: a miracle. We prayed that when Linda went for a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis, the doctors would find that there was no cancer, that our prayers and the prayers of others would result in a miracle. She had the PET scan and the cancer diagnosis was confirmed. There was no miracle. But we continued to pray. Our faith is strong and we were not going to give up hope. We would keep praying for a miracle.

Linda had surgery to remove the cancer. We prayed that the cancer had not spread into the lymph nodes, that God would allow the surgery to bring the miracle. But when we got the biopsy results, we learned that the cancer had gotten into the lymph nodes and there was a second unrelated cancer that did not show up on the PET scan. Still no miracle. Linda would need to go through radiation and chemotherapy. But still our faith was strong and we continued to pray for that miracle.

The dictionary defines a miracle as something that defies the laws of nature, something that is supernatural in nature or an act of God. This is what we were praying for. But there’s another dictionary definition for miracle – any amazing or wonderful event. Not something supernatural, not something that defies the laws of nature, but something that is still amazing or wonderful. Something that we can point to and thank God for. And, for Linda and me, that’s the kind of miracle that we have received.

In the midst of a serious cancer diagnosis, we received peace. We received a stronger faith than we have ever had before. We received the gift of being drawn closer to each other and to God. But the true miracle in this whole situation has been Linda herself. While in the hospital for her surgery and after learning that she needed to undergo chemo and radiation, Linda prayed with other patients, including one who was dying. And while at the treatment center for her radiation treatments, she has been praying with other patients who were struggling.

2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Despite her own diagnosis, and despite the fatiguing treatments she has endured, she has looked at others with a desire to bring a little of the peace and comfort that God has given her. And so, while we have not received the miracle that we have prayed for (although we continue to pray for that!), we have received a miracle. Sometimes the miracle is not what we prayed for. Through God’s great love and mercy, sometimes we are the miracle.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

In the Machine

by Linda McMillan

As I mentioned in a recent post, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. As she has been going through chemo and radiation treatments, the Holy Spirit has given her some powerful insights, which she has written down and I am now publishing on my blog. I pray you will be blessed by them. Pastor Roy

“I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.” Genesis 28:15.

This is the Scripture verse chosen for me for 2020. I was not able to make it to Evangel’s New Year’s Eve service, so my husband, Pastor Roy, put his hand in the basket with the Scripture cards and “randomly” chose one for me. I say “randomly” in quotes because I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit led him to this card.

And God has been keeping this promise to me. Throughout my cancer treatment, I have felt the Lord’s presence with me. As I lay in the radiation machine used to treat my GYN cancer, I look up at the ceiling and see a cutout in the shape of a cross. I am reminded that Jesus loved me so much that he took my sin upon His shoulders, went to the cross, defeated death, and rose again so that I could have eternal life. I know that He is with me in that room.

From that cross in the ceiling emanates a green beam. Tiny tattoos on my body are lined up with the beam so that I will be in perfect alignment with the machine, which then can deliver the radiation at just the right angle. I am reminded that when I line myself up with the teachings of Jesus, I am in perfect position to receive the Lord’s blessings and to bless others.

The machine that delivers the radiation is comprised of three large arms, one with a camera to take CT images of my pelvis, another with a panel to reflect the images to the technicians in the other room, and a third with the instrument that delivers the radiation. I am reminded of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and feel a sense of peace enveloping me.

As I watch the camera click away taking the images of my pelvis, I am reminded that I am created in God’s image. Then, as the panel that reflects the images to the technicians passes over me, I am reminded that I am to reflect the image of Christ to others. Finally, as the arm with the instrument that delivers the radiation passes over me, I am reminded that just as the radiation is eradicating any remaining cancer in my body, so must I allow the Holy Spirit to fill me and eradicate anything that is not pleasing to the Lord.

The Cross: Foolishness or Wisdom?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV)

On a hilltop called Abbey Craig, overlooking Stirling in Scotland, there stands a tower known as Wallace Monument. Within the walls of that tower are a number of stained glass windows, including one of a Scottish knight, a great warrior who was a central figure in the battle for Scottish independence from England. That warrior’s name was William Wallace. Wallace was born around 1270 in Paisley, Renfrew, Scotland, to a wealthy landowner. At the age of 27, he began his efforts to help his country break free of British rule. After years of leading troops in battle, Wallace was captured on August 5, 1305 and executed. Wallace was hanged, drawn, and quartered. Despite his capture and death, and despite the fact that Scotland did not win its independence until 1320, fifteen years after his death, William Wallace is recognized as a martyr and a national hero in Scotland. His heroism was glorified in the 1995 movie, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

Just as Scotland needed to be set free from English rule, we needed to be set free from the chains of sin that held us captive. But this was not a battle we could win on our own. We needed a leader, a warrior King, who would lead us to freedom from our sin. That leader, that warrior King, would be God’s promised Messiah. And that promised Messiah was God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who was born not to a rich landowner, but to a poor, virgin girl named Mary. Jesus began His ministry, His mission to secure our freedom from sin, at the age of about 30. He did not lead troops into battle but after three years of teaching His people, healing the sick, and giving sight to the blind, Jesus, like Wallace, was captured and executed. He was beaten, tortured, and nailed to a cross.

Crucifixion was a humiliating, shameful form of death and not the way that the world would expect a leader, a warrior King, to die. In fact, in the eyes of the world, the message of the cross is foolishness. The idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, who expected a Messiah who would lead them into battle against their enemies and free them from their oppressors. And, the message of the cross was foolishness to the Gentiles, who could see no wisdom in it (1 Corinthians 1:23). But to those of us who are being saved, who are receiving salvation and freedom from the chains of sin, the message of the cross is not foolish. It is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The message of the cross is the message of salvation. William Wallace’s death did not achieve his goal of bringing freedom to Scotland. But through His death on the cross, Jesus, the Savior King, the Son of God, did accomplish what He was sent for by His heavenly Father. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. For those who are being saved, who have chosen to believe in and follow Christ, this humiliating, shameful form of death has broken the chains of sin that held us captive. Just as there were those in the first century who viewed the cross as foolishness, there are some today who similarly hold that view. To them, the cross is a sign of weakness. Yet for those who have received the salvation it brings, it is anything but. Rather, it is an instrument of the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:25 explains this beautifully, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Reflection on 2019 and a Peace that Surpasses Understanding

2019 was an interesting year (to say the least!). It was a year when, for my wife, Linda, and I, a lot of good happened and a year when some really bad stuff happened, as well. On the good side, my spiritual journey, as I walked into ministry, was amazing. I became a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God and am now on staff at Evangel Church, serving as Community Life Pastor. As I have obeyed the call that I felt on my life through the Holy Spirit, God has opened so many doors.

On the bad side, there was the issue of Linda’s health, beginning with a back problem, then diverticulitis, and finally, the worst part of it, a diagnosis of cancer. That diagnosis came out of left field. I can still recall the day that Linda called to give me the news. I was at a meeting at church when she called, and all I can remember is feeling numb. It was totally unexpected! But then, something amazing happened. After that initial feeling of numbness, came a sense of peace.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve read those verses many times but, until that moment, I did not truly understand the deep truth of those words. But in the face of that difficult news I had just received, I completely understood it.

Sure, there have been a couple of times since hearing that diagnosis when I have found myself shedding tears. After all, my best friend this side of heaven had cancer! But any anxiety over it has been given to God. Both of us prayed rather than become dismayed. And many of our family, friends, and church family have joined with us in those prayers. We have called upon our God and, with grateful hearts for all that He has done, and the knowledge that He hears our prayers, we have asked Him to help us, and have asked that His will be done in this circumstance, this situation in which we find ourselves. And His peace, which our human minds cannot even fathom, has and still is guarding our hearts and our minds.

There are days when we feel a bit weary, Linda especially so. The driving to and from treatments, the treatments themselves, and the waiting to see how those treatments will deal with the cancer can sometimes threaten to push us in the direction of anxiety, worry, and fear. But our faith prevails. We know that we serve a faithful God, a God on whom we can cast those anxieties, worries, and fears, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our enemy wants us to worry, but we continue to resist him, standing firm in our faith because, although we may suffer through this cancer, He will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10). Amen!

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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