Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hope in a Storm

The gospel of Matthew, chapter 14 records the familiar story of Jesus walking on water.  Jesus and His disciples had spent a long and strenuous day ministering to large groups of people who had come from the neighboring towns and countryside to hear Him teach.  At the end of the day Jesus and His disciples were tired and in need of rest.

Scripture records that Jesus sent His disciples away on a boat to go across a large lake known as the Sea of Galilee.  He, in the meantime, would go up into the hillside to pray.  There is no record of an explanation for how they would meet up again, only an expectation of obedience to His command.  The weary disciples rowed, and  the night grew dark.  A storm rose and rocked the boat with high winds and waves.  Jesus, seeing their plight, moved in.  

As Jesus walked across the water toward the boat, His disciples cried out in alarm fearing they were seeing a ghost.  But Peter called out to Jesus and said, “Lord if it is really you, command me to come to you on the water,” to which Jesus replied, “Come”.  If you are familiar with the story, you know that Peter took a step of faith, got out of the boat and walked on water, but out of fear began to sink into the depths.  

Answering Peter’s cry for help, Jesus came to him, extended a hand, and lifted Peter to safety by His side.  Here was a picture of hope in the middle of a storm.  It wasn’t pretty or well-packaged with a soaring film score in the background, it was raw and it was real.  The men on the boat feared for their lives, but one of them stepped out.  Say what you will about his fear and lack of faith, for which he was reprimanded, out of all the disciples, Peter stepped out of the boat.  He bet his life on a hunch that he was really seeing Jesus, and that Jesus could help their situation.

The story is really not about Peter or his lack of faith, nor about the quivering disciples in the boat, but rather it is about Jesus.  Peter was right to trust in Jesus.  He was literally their only hope amidst a time of storm.  Many of you readers have had times of storm in your own lives, whether physical, financial, familial, or otherwise, and your hearts have yearned for that kind of help.  Jesus extends a hand of help, but it comes at the cost of faith.  For some reason continually placing our faith in Jesus is difficult to do, but it gets a little easier every time we do it.  

I am thankful for Peter, even as a faulty example.  I know he looks a lot like me when I doubt in times of storm.  And above all I am thankful to Jesus for always being there, calling me out onto the waters of faith and holding out a hand of rescue when I need it most.

The Faithfulness of God

Romans 1:19-20
“... what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made…"

Scriptures demonstrate that God desires to reveal Himself to His creation, and in many creative and unique ways He does so.  He shows the magnitude of His power in mighty displays across the galaxy, He shows His creativity in the staggering variety of plants and animals in all their beautiful and intricate design.  Reflections of God’s character can be seen in those virtues we depend on in society- love, joy, self-sacrifice, generosity, community, cooperation, truth, and many more.  It is as though God chooses to reveal some of His inner character by instilling pieces of it in us.

The faithfulness of God is one of His great endearing qualities, and knowingly or unknowingly, we depend on His faithfulness every day.  The very breath we breathe every day is a gift from God (Job 33:4).  His mercies are new every morning, and His loving kindness lasts forever.  A classic hymn titled, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” says it so eloquently:

Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

That God is faithful is precious to us indeed.  We depend upon His faithfulness in all things every day, and without it we would falter.  What makes this so profound is that God’s faithfulness is made beautiful in contrast to the frailty and brokeness that surround us every day.  God stands faithful in contrast to friends who betray, governments who would deceive, systems that fail, institutions that exploit, and movements that mislead.  God's faithful provision of everyday necessities is precious to us because it is set against the threat of famine and loss without His loving care.  If God were not faithful, we would surely be lost.

God’s faithfulness not only sees to the basic provisions we need for our physical life, but He also has provided for our spiritual sustenance as well.  The hymn writer continues in the final verse:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

God faithfully executed a plan for our salvation which He devised “before the foundations of the earth”.   His Son dying on the cross paid the death penalty that you and I owe for our sins, and because that debt is paid, we can turn to Him for salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and peace with God that cannot be taken away.  This forgiveness brings clarity to our past, understanding for the present, and hope for the future.  God’s faithfulness brings with it all we need for life and godliness as we enjoy the many gifts He has given to us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Spiritual Fruit

This week at Northwood Community Bible Church, we are hosting a Vacation Bible School for children ages 5-12.  Our theme this year is “The Fruit of the Spirit” and it comes from the New Testament book of Galatians.  In chapter 5 the Bible contrasts the life-fruit of the sinful nature of mankind with the fruit of the Spirit of God as seen in the life of one who has been forgiven and given new life in Christ.  What becomes immediately visible is God’s answer to all of the destructive effects of sin in our world.  

You may already be familiar with the list of virtues found in Galatians 5:22,  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” and it is a good guess that you may see a list like that and think to yourself, “I should try to be more like that…”.  Please notice the very first phrase says that these are the fruit of the Spirit.  These are the qualities and virtues that follow a life that is made alive by the Spirit of the Living God.  Let’s look at these fruit and have a feast for our souls:

Love: Love is the Greek word agape'.  Agape’ is a unique form of love in that it begins at God, who is eternal and holy, and as such His love is also pure, never-ending.  All other forms of love are essentially horizontal in nature in that they are expressed between one person or group and another.  They are also temporary and conditional in nature, but is vertical in nature.  God pours His love into our hearts until it overflows us, cleanses us, and splashes out from us onto the lives of others around us.  This is what makes it possible for us to obey Jesus when He tells us to love even our enemies.  (1 Corinthians 13)

Joy:  Joy is more than an attitude, it is a state of being for one who knows that God is in control and his or her sins have been forgiven.  Joy is a mindset that God has our best and His glory in mind as He leads us through daily life.  Even in the most difficult times, joy can be in our hearts and lead us to peace. (Psalm 132:9)

Peace:  There is a peace of mind and heart that God gives as He fills our hearts with His love and joy.  It is a peace that is hard to understand or explain, but it carries us through times of anxiety, confusion, pain and loss. (John 14:27)

Patience:  If there is one thing to be careful about praying for, it’s patience!  Patience is in one sense the ability to keep things in perspective, and give emphasis to those things that actually matter in life.  It is the act of filtering which issues will rule your thinking and behavior.  (2 Peter 3:9)

Kindness:  We love kindness when it is shown to us.  To some people it comes naturally to reach out to others with a loving and kind heart to encourage, strengthen, and help make another’s day bright.  God’s Spirit moves in us to teach us how we might be a blessing to others.  (Matt. 5:16)

Goodness:  Doing good for others is a beautiful and necessary thing.  It brings a sweetness to daily life when we either act out of the goodness of God’s heart or we receive such an action from another whom God sends to lift our load and bless us with His love.  It should be noted that good works save us from our sins, but God, who saves us, also leads us into good works which He has planned in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Faithfulness:  Faithfulness is the willingness to trust and obey God no matter what.  (Psalm 36:5)

Gentleness:  Gentleness is the ability to speak and act truthfully without doing so harshly.  Gentleness is seen the the love of a mother for her baby, in the warm hug of a father, and in the gracious way that God speaks to our hearts, calling us to follow Him.  (Colossians 3:12-13)

Self-control:  without self-control love becomes permissiveness, joy becomes complacency, peace becomes apathy, faithfulness becomes blind adherence.  Even self-control becomes legalism without grace.  (2 Timothy 1:7-8)

This multi-faceted fruit grows in the life of one who is filled with God’s Spirit and responds in willing obedience to be made more like Jesus every day.  May you have a life that is blessed with an increasing harvest of the fruit of the Holy Spirit!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

At The End Of The Rainbow

We see a lot of rainbows these days, on banners, t-shirts, bumper stickers, posters, photographs - they are all over the place!  There is something beautiful and almost mysterious about rainbows.  When you see one in real life, whether you are young or old, there is a sense of mystery and wonder at how such a beautiful thing could come to hang in mid-air, like an illusion of brilliant color that is here for a moment and then gone.

The Bible gives us colorful detail about the very first rainbow and why it is so significant in Genesis 9:13-16.  In that passage, God says:

"I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

God gave Noah a beautiful gift, a sign that would remain with mankind for the rest of history, a brilliant bow of colorful light.  He said it would remind Him of His promise never to destroy the earth by water again.  Consider the message of the rainbow to its many viewers:  to the artist, it is a perfect blending of each of the primary and secondary colors; to the scientist it is the fracturing of mixed frequencies of light into their various ordered quanta;  to the musician it is an emblem of lyrical inspiration;  to the child it is a spectacle of wonder and delight, and to the theologian it is a reminder that such beauty was a token of God’s promise to Man.

The beauty of the rainbow contrasts with the terrifying reason it was brought about by God.  In the above passage, God says that it will remind Him of His promise never to destroy the earth again by water.  God is referring to the event recorded in scripture as Noah’s flood.  In this record of events, God saw that the wickedness of mankind had become so overwhelming, so pervasive, and so destructive, that it actually caused Him grief!  He wished that He had never made man in the first place, and so He chose Noah and his family to continue the human race, and He brought the destructive calamity of a world-wide flood to wipe the slate clean and begin again.  To this very day, you can see evidence of this great catastrophe in places like the Grand Canyon and even the Badlands of North Dakota, as billions and billions of dead things are laid down by water in rock layers all over the earth.  And you can see the rainbow sign of God’s promise to never do so again.

The Bible does talk about a future time of great difficulty in which God will finally vanquish His enemies and bring to right all the effects of sin and destruction.  In the book of 2 Peter 3:10-13, it says:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed."

Can you even envision that event?  I don’t even think Hollywood could get close to that one!  Listen to the question that follows in the next verse...

"Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! "

But wait!  There’s HOPE!  2 Peter 3:13 says:

"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

God will not ultimately abandon His children to destruction.  A new heaven and a new earth are in store for those who believe in the saving power of Jesus’ name!  This will be a new place to live in the presence of God Himself, where there will be no crying, no sickness, no sin and no more death!  In the end God will be seen for the glorious, powerful, holy and awesome God that He is.  And His people will dwell with Him forever!

The next time you see a rainbow, celebrate the gracious promises we have from God, and look forward to a beautiful new heaven and earth!