#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 26, 2010

The morning news told it all. Tornadoes suddenly ripped through the south tearing apart several communities. The pictures show the aftermath with homes and businesses ripped open or leveled, their contents spread all over the landscape for everyone to see. The tearful survivors move through the rubble, picking up the pieces.

Adversity has the same effect on us. It rips through our life with little warning, tearing apart everything that held us together. The contents of our life is strewn everywhere for all to see. Our faith in Christ is laid bare. Our emotions are raw. We move through the rubble of our lives full of tears while those around us ask, “Where is your God now?” (Psalm 42:3)

As we pick up the pieces after the storms of life hit, we know that one thing never changes – Jesus Christ. Amidst the rubble, he is there lifting us up, strengthening us, helping us to rely on His Spirit instead of our selfish desires. Christ is what enables us to see trials as pure joy, to “know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (James 1:2-4)

When we rebuild with Christ after the storms of life, we rebuild with more of Him and less of ourselves. Jesus gives us the ability to rejoice in the midst of grief and all kinds of trials “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though it is refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In the aftermath of the storms of life, when others ask where God is, you can respond as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42:11: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (The Message)

Wednesday Walk Though the Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 & 7:28-29 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who encounters Jesus teaching the Beatitudes.

It was another hot day. The dust swirled around my sandals as I hurried along the path. Small stones crunched under my feet as I walked on the barren dirt. My mouth was dry from the heat as sweat dripped down my forehead and back. I was focused on fetching the baskets my father needed when I caught a glimpse of a large crowd on a hillside. I stopped and noticed the people were gathered around a man. “Why would so many people stand and listen to this man in heat like this?” I asked myself.

I hesitated a moment, curious as to why the crowd had gathered around this man. I knew my father was expecting me back soon with his baskets. “It will only take a moment,” I finally convinced myself as I moved up the hillside and pressed into the crowd. I strained to get a look at the man, but the mass of people made it difficult to get closer. I could barely make out what he was saying to the crowd. I thought he said something about being comforted. I tried to push my way forward, but the people were packed in too tight for me to move any further.

I listened as best as I could, concentrating on the words I could make out. The tone of his voice was gentle yet forceful. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did I hear that right? How could the meek be blessed? How could they inherit the earth? His words became clearer as I closed my eyes and listened.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Those words resonated within me. Oh how I hunger for righteousness in this unjust world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How could I receive mercy for being merciful? I processed his words. “Who is this man?” I asked myself as I continued to soak up his words.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How could a mortal man see God? My heart began to long for more of what this man said. I had never heard anything like it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” How could someone like me, someone of such low status, be considered a child of God? That’s when I noticed a man adjacent to me, wearing fine clothes, staring at my ragged appearance with disapproving eyes. I closed my eyes and listened for more.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted for doing what is right? That happens everyday around here, yet he said those who are persecuted for righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could that be?

Who is this man who speaks with such authority? I strained to get a look at him. My soul stirred deep within me. For the first time I felt that perhaps there was hope for a poor, forsaken person like me.

I would like to say that I am always ready to respond to God’s call with a positive attitude, but that would be far from the truth. There are days when I feel discouraged and beaten down by the world; days when I am fed up with grumbling people complaining about everything. So when I read Numbers 20:1-13, I could relate to how Moses was feeling when God showed him how to provide water to the Israelites.

From the moment Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he endured endless grumbling, often pointed at him. We see the same old complaints in this chapter: “Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness (verse 3, NIV)? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place (4)?” Why? Why? Why? It is enough to make anyone angry. Who could blame Moses for letting off a little steam?

At first Aaron and Moses responded to these complaints with the right attitude by falling facedown before the Lord at the tent of meeting (6). The Lord appears to them and tells them to take the staff, speak to the rock, and water will pour out “so they and their livestock can drink (8).” However, when Moses gathered the assembly before the rock he snapped and said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock (10)?” Then Moses struck the rock and water gushed out for all to drink (11).

This show of anger was not exactly what God asked Moses to do. In return for this outburst God tells Moses, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them (12).” Because of his actions Moses missed out on the promised land.

Verse 12 caused me to stop and consider how I represent God to those around me. I contemplated what I might be missing by not controlling my anger. Do I trust God enough to follow his ways or do I take matters into my own hands? Do I honor God as holy in the sight of others or do I let my frustration mar my witness to others? I wonder how many times I missed out on blessing others with God’s love and grace because I let my anger guide my actions?

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 20, 2010

What was it like to be a disciple with Jesus; to hear the crunch of rocks under your feet as you walk the dusty roads with him; to hear his voice as he spoke to the crowds that followed him; to witness the miracles? What was it like?

Imagine being in the boat when the storm arose (Mark 4:35-41) and feeling panic as the boat fills with water. Fearing for your life, you cry out to Jesus who is sleeping in the stern. Imagine the awe you feel as you watch Jesus rise and instantly calm the sea and the wind. “Who is he that even the wind and waves obey him?” (NKJV)

Imagine your amazement as you collect 12 baskets of scraps left over from feeding five thousand men. (Mark 6:33-44) Earlier you questioned how to feed all the people gathered around – if bread should be purchased for them. Yet Jesus took a mere five loaves and two fish and somehow it was more than enough to feed everyone.

Imagine marveling with the crowds (Matt.15:30-31) as Jesus heals the lame, blind and the mute who are brought to him by the multitudes. The reports of these miracles spread throughout the land. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 NKJV) “Who is he?” you ask yourself.

Yet you do not have to imagine experiencing Christ. He is alive today. When the storms of life start filling your boat with water, call out to him and he will calm your fears. When you are crowded by the demands of life, turn to him and there will be baskets left over. When the sickness and death in this world burden you, be reassured that because you believe in him, you will walk with him some day. (John 3:16)

Today we can still be in awe of Jesus and the power he gives us through the Holy Spirit. We can show the same compassion he did to the crowds who are searching for him. We can still marvel at his power to overcome. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)

Fear can be a powerful motivator or hinderance in our commitment to following God, particularly when we are called to go to a new and unfamiliar place. The most difficult part is often the journey, the transition between your old place and the new place. There is a tension between the uncertainty about where you are going and the familiarity of where you have been. It is this in-between place where doubt and fear can take hold of us, where faith and facts compete with one another. This is where the Israelites were as they approached the land God promised them.

In Numbers 13 and 14 God instructed Moses to “send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites (Numbers 13:2, NIV).” The spies spent 40 days exploring the land and reported that the land “does flow with milk and honey (13:27).” But they also reported that “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (13:28).” This is the moment where fact and faith present themselves to the Israelites.

God has laid out a plan for your life, a journey that will lead you to “a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8).” With each new step, he asks us to follow him in faith. The challenge is to not do what the Israelites did and take your eyes off God, to not let fear take hold of you. In Numbers 13:33 there is a telling phrase where some of the spies say, “in our own eyes.” They could only see that they looked tiny, like grasshoppers, compared to a foe who appeared “stronger” and “of great size (13:31-32).” They were scared they would be crushed like bugs even though God assured them they would take the land.

God asks us to view things through his eyes, not the world’s eyes of things like power and riches. Sometimes he asks us to take a step of faith even when the challenges look insurmountable. That’s when we need the advice of faithful followers of God like Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 14:6-9 they tell the Israelites not to be afraid, that the Lord will give them the land; that it is a good land; that the Lord is with them and they should not be afraid. Numbers 14:24 tells us that Caleb “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” This is the type of counsel we need to encourage us on the path that the Lord has laid before us. If we let fear instead of faith dominate our actions, we may miss what God has in store for us.

Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. – Numbers 14:30-31 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 16, 2010

The author of life created us with a purpose. He gives us the words in the Bible to define our life. Yet too often we choose the sinful words from this world to describe our existence. We build our life story around temporal things that lack meaning and purpose, settling for a life that’s disoriented and distant from Christ.

Galatians 5:16-26 reminds us that there are two sets of words to live by – those that describe the sinful nature and those of the Spirit. Verse 17 tells us “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that “you do not do what you want to do.”(NIV) It’s a daily struggle to choose the right words to build a life story around Christ.

The Message translation of the Bible gives us a striking list of words that describes the sinful nature in verses 19-21: “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” You don’t have to look far to see these words in the world today and the kind of story they tell about a life caught up in the sinful nature.

If we live by the Spirit our lives will tell a different story, a story that reads as it was originally written before it was edited and revised according to the sinful nature. Verses 22-23 tell us the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It’s interesting that verse 23 ends with “Against such things there is no law.” Laws abound around trying to control the sinful nature.

The story of a life lived with the Spirit will bear fruit that communicates Christ clearly to others. In the struggle to write our life story each day according to God’s design, let us carefully choose our words. Paul advises us in Gal. 5:24, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

Wednesday Walk, Acts 27:13-28:10

Today I introduce #WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of another prisoner shipwrecked with Paul.

Who is this man? Were it not for Paul I would’ve been slaughtered on the ship by the soldiers who wanted to stop us from escaping. Were it not for his words of wisdom, we would’ve all been lost at sea in that violent storm. Were it not for him, we would not have eaten anything on the ship and would not have had strength enough to make it to the beach. This Paul has knowledge of a god seemingly so powerful, yet so personal that he prepares him for future events. What kind of god shows such love and grace to a mere man?

I thought for sure Paul was a dead man when I watched in horror as a viper latched onto his hand as he tossed brushwood on the fire. Yet I watched in awe as he shook off that deadly snake from his hand, showing no panic or fear. He has such peace about life. It is a peace I long to have in my life. It is that lack of peace in my life that put me here with these other criminals.

After surviving the snakebite, then he cured the father of Publius who suffered from fever and dysentery for who knows how long. That in and of itself was astonishing enough to hear about. Of course word spread quickly and soon all the sick on the island came to Paul. I was skeptical as I watched the crowd of sick people form around Paul. I told myself, “There is no way he can cure all these people.” Yet he did.

Who is this man? Paul talks of a Jesus from Nazareth. He talks of Jesus being the son of God. How can a man be the son of a god and walk among us? He talks of this Jesus being crucified, dying and rising from the dead. I am a condemned man who boarded the ship in chains. Now this man Paul has shown me a different life, a different way. Could there be freedom for me even in chains?

In the moment

I thank God for each breath I take

In the moment

I thank God for the cooling breeze

In the moment

I thank God for his hand upon my life

In the past

I feel the pain of struggles and trauma

In the past

I grieve for those who are gone now

In the past

I recall God’s hand upon my life

In the future

I worry about tragedies yet to come

In the future

I feel anxiety about the unknown

In the future

I know God’s hand will be upon my life

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matt. 6:33-34 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. – Luke 12:22-23 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published April 6, 2010

You’ve repacked your suitcase with God’s good things, his plan for your life. Everything is in order the way it should be with Christ folded neatly inside. But 2 Timothy 1:14 reminds us that though the spirit of God lives within us, we must guard against the flesh that tempts us. Satan is never far behind trying to convince us that those sinful ways you left behind still fit you like a favorite sweater.

Sin has a way of creeping into our life under the same disguise as in Genesis chapter 3. It has the same appeal to us as it did to Eve, pleasing to the eye and desirable for wisdom (Gen. 3:6). It promises to give us something we think we do not already have in our life. Whether it’s the physical appeal that creates desire or the emotional appeal of knowledge and status, it tempts us to indulge; to be the God of our own life; to create our own definition of good and evil.

Even more dangerous is the component of sin that makes it infectious to others. There is that moment in Genesis chapter 3, after Eve took some of the fruit and ate it, that sin is still contained only with her. But verse 6 ends with “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam was there watching the whole thing and decided to participate in the sin along with Eve. The same can happen to us if we expose ourselves to situations and people where sin abounds. Before we know it, the fruit is given to us and we take a bite.

That’s why it’s important to have a traveling companion on your journey through life – another believer in Christ who can tell you, “You know that old, worn sweater you’re looking at just isn’t you.” Someone who can remind you how bitter the fruit of sin tastes before you take a bite. Paul reminds in Romans 5:17, “The sin of this one man, Adam caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to not give up meeting together so that we can “encourage and warn each other.” (NLV) It is in this fellowship with others that we are able to nurture our faith and strengthen our ability to avoid sin. With other believers by our side, we have the strength to say as Jesus said when he was tempted, “Away from me Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt. 4:10 NIV)

I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

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