Tuesday, June 28, 2016

why are you so afraid?

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
     He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
     The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)


“Why are you so afraid?”  What a great question.  One that deserves a great answer.  How do you answer it?  Oh it’s easy to say, “Who me?  I’m not afraid,” when the seas are calm and our circumstances are good.  But when all hell breaks loose in our lives, then what happens?  Do we react in faith or do we react in fear?  Because these are the moments that tell us what we really believe, deep in our hearts, about life and about God.  Our reaction to stormy circumstances is telling.  How we choose to react to our storms determines what we allow ourselves to be controlled by—fear or faith.  Do we “Take courage” as Jesus so often calls us to do, knowing that he is ultimately in control of all things and will indeed take care of us?  Or are we swept away by chaos, allowing fear and panic to dominate our hearts and lives.  Taking courage happens when we choose to be led by faith rather than by fear.  So today, if a storm rears its ugly head, what will we choose? 

Friday, June 24, 2016

god's hand


What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:66)


What a sweet image.  God’s hand was with, or upon, this little child, John.  There are some things you just can't describe in any other way.  It was a qualitative thing.  Something about him made people realize that God was up to something, that God was present in some special way.  I wonder what it was.

I don’t know about you, but I long for that very same awareness.  I long to sense and to see God’s hand upon and within my life, as well as the lives of those around me.  And not only do I long to see God’s hand, but I need to see God’s hand.  It is this awareness of God within and among us that gives life and joy to my soul.  For God’s hand does so many things.  It is his caring hand that touches me when I am lonely or in need.  It is his comforting hand that heals my wounds and soothes my pain.  It is his protecting hand that shields me from my enemies, both within and without.  It is his nurturing hand that gives my heart and my soul all that I need to grow and mature.  It is his loving hand that runs his fingers through my hair as he reminds me of who I am to him.  It is his guiding hand that directs my steps and keeps me from getting lost along the way.  It is his reassuring hand that calms my fears and overcomes my anxieties.  The list goes on and on.

One thing is for sure, God’s hand gives us visible evidence that we are not alone.  He is always with us.  O Lord, place your hand upon us this day, whatever that may mean.  You know our hearts like no other and you know exactly what we need.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God!


Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

worry


“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30)


Worry is a given in this life, it seems.  So the real question is not so much how to eliminate it, but how to fruitfully deal with it and come against it.  The human strategies for dealing with anxiety are many and varied.  We can try to avoid or deny anxiety, using to old “if I don’t think about it, it will go away” strategy.  But, as we all know, it doesn’t go away.  At least not for long.  Or we can run off into busyness, toiling and striving to arrange our lives in such a way that whatever it is that we are anxious about will never come to pass.  Good luck with that one as well.  Or we can let it totally consume and paralyze us so that it is all we can think about.  Who wants to live like that? 

So exactly how do we deal with anxiety in a healthy way?  We do it, Jesus tells us, not by not thinking, or by thinking too much about what lies before or within us, but by thinking about him, and his care for us, as well as his care for our world.  Jesus points us to nature, to looking at and considering how God cares for all that is around us.  Then reminding us that he cares for us far, far more.  When we really begin to believe that, when we really begin to live our lives trusting both his heart and his hand, then we will really begin to trust him, which will give us peace rather than anxiety.  Try it today.  When you are feeling particularly anxious, stop and take a moment to refocus your heart on the incredible love and faithfulness of our God.  See if that doesn’t begin to give you some handholds in your battle against worry.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

what's your treasure

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)



On the surface they look pretty similar I sure, which is undoubtedly how the name was derived.  But upon closer examination, particularly in the hands of an expert, one proves to be immensely valuable, while the other is completely worthless.  How can two things that look so similar be so completely different in both substance and content?  Therein lies the mystery.
    
Treasure can be a tricky thing, just ask any prospector.  What looks like treasure can actually be fool’s gold.  It takes a trained eye to see the difference, to know the qualities of each.  And, as Jesus shows us here, the same is true in the spiritual life.  So often we can get tricked into thinking that the shiny things of this world are far more valuable, or satisfying, or lasting, than they really are.  And so we invest an enormous amount of time and energy in those things (success, achievement, acclaim, affirmation, financial security, etc.) only to find out in the end that they were of no lasting value—fool’s gold.  Jesus knows us all too well.  He knows that whatever (or whoever) it is that we treasure will be the thing that we pursue with our whole hearts.  It is just how we’re wired. 
    
Therefore it becomes pretty important that we take time regularly to examine, and reflect upon, what our treasure really is at any given moment.  To ask ourselves where the majority of our time and energy is being invested.  And then to ask ourselves if that thing is indeed treasure, or just some cheap imitation. 


Lord Jesus, be the treasure of our hearts, even as we are the treasure of yours.  Amen.




Sunday, June 12, 2016

love much

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
     “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)



I’ve always prided myself in not being a “rules” guy, ready to strike a blow against legalism whenever it rears its ugly head.  But lately I’ve come to the realization that I’ve got a lot more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.  It most often shows itself in the form of judgment and criticism.  Oh, it doesn’t always end up coming out of my mouth (although it comes out a lot more often than I wish it did), but it is always a regular part of my inner dialogue. 

It seems that I have an enormous need to be right.  And if you, like me, have an ever-increasing need to be right, then you also need someone to be wrong.  That’s where the judgment and criticism comes in, because you are always having to make a case for yourself, always comparing yourself.  Which also means that you are also making a case against those on the opposing side of the fence, or, strangely enough, even against those on your side of the fence at times.  You are always picking out the flaws in others to make yourself feel better about your own.  And if you are totally honest, this whole ugly process comes from one horrible source—insecurity.  The Pharisees must’ve been the most insecure group of people on the entire planet.  And I ought to know, because, in spite of my best wishes not to be, I am, it seems, a card-carrying member.  My constant inner dialogue proves it.
    
The answer, it would seem, to this dilemma is transformation.  I need to have the way I see things completely transformed.  I need to begin to see myself and my world—and even my God—through the eyes of the sinful woman rather than the eyes of the Pharisee.  I need to know the depths of my own sinfulness, as well as the unfailing nature of His love.  I need to find my security, not in my own efforts, but in His great affection.  Then, and only then, can I choose security over insecurity, love over judgment, humility over criticism, compassion over competition, and community over comparison.  Then I will begin to see all things through the lenses of his grace and mercy, which will produce a deep gratitude in me.  Then I will be able to love much, because I will finally realize that I have been forgiven much.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

lost

And when he has found his lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me. For I have found my sheep that was lost." Luke 15:5-6

If you live long enough, and are completely honest with yourself, you come to the realization that being lost doesn't just have to do with salvation; there are a multitude of other ways to get lost in this life.  In fact, it happened to me just the other day, as those dark and familiar voices from deep in my heart arose and started telling me that all too familiar story about how I am inadequate, unworthy, and unlovable.  The next thing I knew I was filled with fear, insecurity, and anxiety.  I was desperate and disoriented.  I was lost.  I'm not really even sure how it started, and to be quite honest it really doesn't take very much to put me in this state, but before I knew it I was in a very dark place.  Thank goodness for the One who constantly comes to find me when I have once again wondered down this dark and lonely path.  The One who takes hold of me, lays me on his shoulders, reminds me of his unfailing love and affection, and carries me home rejoicing.  Because I'm pretty sure that I could never have found my way back on my own.