Looking Past Wind & Waves

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 often they 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. 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. 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. 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.

Being the Hands, Feet, and Heart of Jesus

It’s been quite a while since I posted to my blog. Life has been very busy lately and there have been things, both good and not so good, that have hindered my blogging. I hope to get back to blogging at least twice a week, beginning today.

In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, ” ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Just as important as loving God is loving our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the person who lives next door to us, the person who lives in the same city, the same state, the same country that we live in. But it doesn’t stop there. Our neighbor is the person who lives anywhere on this planet that we call home. Our neighbor is the person who lives around the world and the person who lives across the street. So, when Jesus said we must love our neighbor as ourselves, he meant every person in His creation.

Those of us who follow Christ are called to be His hands, His feet, and His heart to the world, especially to those who do not know Him. A follower of Christ should reflect the love of Christ to the world around him or her. We are called to tell the world about the love that Jesus showed for all of us when He gave His life on a Roman cross over 2,000 years ago. We are called to be His witnesses and to make disciples of those who live near us and those who do not (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19). We are called to love them as He loved us. And the best way to do that is by serving others, by providing for their needs. In Mark 10:45, Jesus told us that He “came not to be served but to serve.” If we are truly His followers, if we truly want to be like Him, this is true for us as well.

On Sunday, October 13th, in a biannual event that we call Service for Service, the congregation of Evangel Church in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, the church that I call home, gave up its Sunday services to go out into the community to serve others. We packed meals for starving children around the world. We stocked a food pantry. We helped to build homes, clean parks, and do cleanup and maintenance for people in our neighboring communities. We visited nursing homes, the local veterans hospital, and members of our church family who are shut-ins. Over 1,000 strong, we brought the love of Jesus not just into our own community and the communities surrounding us, but also around the world. We were the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus. Think about what kind of change the church could bring to the world if every church and every follower of Christ did this each and every day!

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.

“I Make All Things New”

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A look at what is going on in this fallen world that we live in can easily bring tears to our eyes. It seems like almost every day we hear or read about tragedies such as mass shootings, sex crimes and abuse, the killing of unborn children, and the like. Then there are the natural tragedies such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and wild fires. And of course, we not only hear about, but often personally experience, the pain and sorrow caused by the death of loved ones, diseases such as cancer, and other illnesses. Just thinking of these things brings tears to my eyes. It seems like the world is inching closer and closer to the final days that we read about in Bible prophecy.

But when we read of the things to come, especially in the book of Revelation, there is reason for hope, reason to push aside the despair that the condition of the world can lead us into. God’s Word makes it clear that one day, all of these things that cause us sorrow and bring us to tears will be taken away. 2 Peter 3:13 tells us that we can look forward to “the new heavens and new earth he (God) has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.” The apostle John was given a vision of that day. In Revelation 21:1, he says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared.”

In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, as Jesus makes His way to Calvary to be crucified, there is a scene where Jesus falls and His mother, Mary, makes her way to His side. When she gets there, Jesus looks at her and says, “See, mother, I make all things new.” Although Scripture does not tell us that Jesus spoke those words at that time (He did speak them later), and although the picture of the broken and bleeding Savior when taken at face value does not seem to project the optimism and hope that those words speak of, it is true that His pain, His suffering, and His death did make everything new. Because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross of Calvary, the words of Revelation 21:3-5 were made possible:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”  (Revelation 21:3-5)

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, if we turn from our sins and confess Him as Lord and Savior of our lives, we will one day experience a world much different from the one that we are living in now. We will experience a new world, one in which there is no more violence, no more death, no more sickness, no more sorrow, and no more pain. We will experience a world where the tears will be wiped from our eyes and our hearts will experience the joy of knowing that we live in a world in which God makes His home, a world in which we will be His people and He will be our God. A world where, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we will walk with Him and talk with Him. A world in which Jesus has made everything new!

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.

Follow the Son

The tall, brightly colored flower that we call the sunflower provides us with an edible seed and oil that can be used for cooking and as a part of salad dressings. But this flower also provides us with spiritual inspiration. In France, the word for sunflower is tournesol, a word that means “turns with the sun.” The reason for this name is that, in their bud phase, sunflowers literally seek out and face the sun, a trait known as heliotropism. The young flowers face the east at dawn and then move throughout the day so that they continually face the sun. Why do they do this? Each sunflower plant has only one flower and, because of this, it is important that the plant’s means of reproducing gets noticed by pollinators (insects). Warm flowers attract insects and by facing the sun, the flower of the young sunflower plant stays warm.

As the sunflower follows the life-giving sun, we as believers follow the life-giving Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because we believe that Jesus came and died for our sins so that we might have eternal life, we choose to follow Jesus. We follow His commands and His word, and we are called to bring others to Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We are called to spread the Gospel to all nations with the goal of making disciples of all people, the goal of helping others to experience the true life-change that comes only when they choose to follow the Son.

But making disciples of others requires more than just knowing the right words to say. It requires more than just being able to quote Scripture and explain the gift of salvation offered by God through Jesus. It requires that we reflect Jesus, that people see Jesus in us. When we reflect Jesus in the way in which we live our lives, when people see the love of Jesus in us, like the insects that are attracted to the sunflower warmed by facing the sun, those people will be attracted to Jesus. They will turn toward Him and follow Him. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 says:

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Just as following the sun helps the sunflower to reproduce, so following the Son will help us to reproduce as God uses us to bring others to Jesus, making disciples of all nations.

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.

Raise the Battle Cry

On July 21, 1861, Union forces led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell and Confederate forces led by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard met just north of the city of Manassas, Virginia to engage in the first major battle of the American Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run. The battle was a Confederate victory, and that victory was sparked not by weapons but by what would later be called the “rebel yell.” Following an attack by the Union Army, General Beauregard ordered a counterattack. It was during that attack that the Confederate Army raised a battle cry, screaming as they advanced toward the Union troops. With that battle cry, the Confederates managed to break the Union line. The Union troops retreated across Bull Run in a panic, leading to a victory for the Confederates. That cry, the “rebel yell,” was intended to intimidate their enemy and boost the morale of the Confederate troops. In the Battle of Bull Run, it did just that. Recalling the Confederate battle cry, one Union soldier said that it would send “a peculiar corkscrew sensation that went up your spine when you heard it.” Years after the war was over, a Confederate veteran noted that, “If a recruit had nothing at hand but the ‘rebel yell,’ he could at least help to intimidate an adversary.”

The Bible mentions several war cries. One of the most famous examples is found in Judges 7, in the story of Gideon. God called Gideon to free the Israelites from the Midianites. By God’s command, Gideon took with him just 300 men, divided them into three groups, and led them toward the Midianite camp, each man carrying a ram’s horn and a clay jar with a torch concealed in it. Let’s take a look at Judges 7:19-24 to see what happened next:

19 It was just after midnight, after the changing of the guard, when Gideon and the 100 men with him reached the edge of the Midianite camp. Suddenly, they blew the rams’ horns and broke their clay jars. 20 Then all three groups blew their horns and broke their jars. They held the blazing torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands, and they all shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Each man stood at his position around the camp and watched as all the Midianites rushed around in a panic, shouting as they ran to escape. 22 When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords. Those who were not killed fled to places as far away as Beth-shittah near Zererah and to the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath. 23 Then Gideon sent for the warriors of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who joined in chasing the army of Midian. 24 Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down to attack the Midianites. Cut them off at the shallow crossings of the Jordan River at Beth-barah.” So all the men of Ephraim did as they were told.

Did you catch what happened in verses 20 and 21? The Israelites, as they had been instructed by Gideon, raised a battle cry, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” And, just as the “rebel yell” of the Confederate Army at Bull Run caused the Union Army to flee in a panic, so the battle cry of the Israelites caused the Midianites to panic and flee. But look at what happened next. In verse 23, we read that the 300 Israelites sounded their ram’s horns and, in total confusion, the Midianites began to fight each other with their swords. God defeated the Midianites without the Israelites having to draw their own swords.

As believers, as the body of Christ, we are in a battle. But unlike the Battle of Bull Run and unlike Gideon’s battle against the Midianites, our battle is not an earthly battle. It is a spiritual battle. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, it’s not a battle against “flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” It’s a battle for souls. And when you look at the state of the world around us, you’d probably say that, right now, the enemy is winning. We are living in a time where things are turned upside down, when evil is called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). And as the body of Christ, we need to step up the battle. But, although we are human, we don’t fight our battles as humans do. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4, our weapons are not worldly weapons. The weapons that we must use to tear down the “strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” are God’s weapons. In Ephesians 6:10-17, Paul outlines the battle gear that we are to employ, the armor of God. While most of the components of that armor are defensive components, there is one that is an offensive component, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Armed with that word, we can “destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God” and “capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

In this spiritual battle that we are in, there is only one ultimate victor, Jesus Christ, and He is described for us in Revelation 19:11-16:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12 His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13 He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16 On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

In that battle between good and evil, good will prevail. Referring to the forces of evil, Revelation 19:21 tells us that, “Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse.” Jesus is the Word of God, and it is through that Word that the enemy will ultimately be defeated. Until the day that the final battle is fought, we, the body of Christ, need to step up the battle. God will give us the victory. We must lift our voices and proclaim the gospel to this fallen world and raise our battle cry. And what is that battle cry? Jesus!

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.

Don’t Place a Period Where God Has Placed a Comma

Toward the end of her life as she penned her final love letter to her husband, George Burns, famed comedienne Gracie Allen wrote, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” Another way of putting the thought behind what Gracie Allen wrote is, “Don’t put God in a box!” When things look bad, when we are facing a crisis of some sort, our reaction, based on our human way of thinking, can quite often be resignation, defeat, or hopelessness. We don’t see any way out of the circumstance or crisis we are in and we’re ready to give up. And, truth be told, if it depended on our own human strength, it would be right to look at it that way. But in Ephesians 3:20, Scripture tells us that God is “able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” We can’t, but God can! God can place a comma where we would place a period.

In Mark’s gospel, we read about Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, whose daughter has fallen gravely ill. Jairus went to Jesus to plead with Him, asking Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter so that she could live (Mark 5:22-23). Jesus went with Jairus but, on the way to Jairus’ home, messengers arrived with the news that Jairus’ daughter was dead and told Jairus that there was no use troubling Jesus with this now. The girl was dead. Period. Hearing this, Jesus told them not to be afraid but to have faith (Mark 5:35-36). In other words, erase that period from the end of the sentence and replace it with a comma.

Jesus continued on His way to the home of Jairus. Arriving there and seeing much commotion and weeping, Jesus went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” The crowd of people just laughed at Him. They were basically saying, “Look, Jesus, we know the difference between someone being dead or asleep, and this young girl is dead. Period!” But Jesus knew that God had not placed a period on this girl’s life but a comma. He went in to the room where the dead girl lay, held her hand and said, “Little girl, get up!” The girl immediately got up and began walking around (Mark 5:38-42).

When a crisis has you ready to throw in the towel, when you are feeling defeated or hopeless, don’t look at your own human limitations, or the limitations of others. Look at the limitlessness of God. Remember that what may be impossible for you is not impossible for God. With God everything is possible (Mark 10:27). Don’t place a period where God has placed a comma.

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.

The High Cost of Freedom

Yesterday, as a nation, we celebrated the day on which we declared our independence from Great Britain. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we were telling King George III, and the rest of the world, that we were no longer to be a colony ruled by another country. Rather, we were to be a new nation, free to govern itself, free from the burdens placed upon us by Great Britain. And it is that freedom that we celebrate every year on July 4th. But we must never forget that freedom comes at a cost and that cost is high. We must never take that freedom for granted.

The American Revolution, the war that secured for us the independence that we declared on July 4, 1776, resulted in the loss of about 25,000 lives, some through battle, some through disease and other factors. Another 25,000 American soldiers were wounded, bringing the total casualties to about 50,000, a high price to pay for the freedom we sought. Our nation is now 243 years old, and throughout those years, many more Americans have willingly paid the price, through death or injury, to help us maintain the freedom that we so love. From 1775 through 2019, the total casualties of war are estimated to be over 2,852,901. There is a high cost to freedom!

There is another freedom that we must never take for granted, another freedom that came at a high cost. That freedom is the freedom from the penalty of sin, a freedom that came at the cost of one life, that of Jesus Christ. The Son of God, Jesus was sent into our world over 2,000 years ago to take upon Himself the cost of freedom from our sins. Although He Himself was without sin, He went to the cross and gave His life so that we could be set free from our sin. He took upon His shoulders the sins of every person who has ever lived on this earth and willingly gave His life to provide the way for each of us to be set free from the penalty of those sins (1 Timothy 2:6). Each and every one of us is a prisoner of sin, but we can enjoy freedom from that sin. How? By believing in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22).

Jesus gave His life to free us from the sin that enslaved us. All that we need to do to receive that gift of freedom is to believe in Him, to believe that He is the Son of God, that He died for our sins. The cost of our freedom was high and we must never take that freedom for granted. We must turn from sin and not use the freedom that Jesus paid for as an excuse to continue to satisfy our sinful nature. Rather, we must use our freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). When we stay true to Jesus’ teachings, when we serve one another in love, we are truly His disciples and we can live in the promise that He made in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

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.

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