Archive for Belief
First, the disciples saw Jesus. John 6:19 says, “They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat” (NLT). I don’t know that they were looking for Jesus, but they saw him nonetheless. Have you taken time to look for Jesus in the midst of your storm? Jesus not only came to them, he came to them walking on the waves. In Ephesians 1:21-22, Paul reminds his readers that the Father has given Jesus authority over all things, and has placed them “under his feet.” The very threat that loomed over the heads of the disciples was already under the feet of Jesus. This is why its important to see Jesus in your storm: what ever threatens your life today is already under the feet of Jesus.
Not only did they see Jesus, they heard Jesus speak to them from the midst of the storm. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Don’t be afraid” (John 6:20, NLT). The Bible is filled with that kind of strong encouragement. In fact, one person has counted the “Do not fears” in the Bible and has tabulated 365 occurances…one for every day of the year! The problem with fear is that whatever you fear becomes your self imposed limitation. If you’re afraid of heights, you stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you stay dry. If you’re afraid of snakes, you stay indoors. Jesus first words to the tossed and tormented twelve were appropriately designed to loosen the grip of fear on their hearts.
The second word that Jesus spoke to them was, “I am here” (John 6:20, NLT). Literally in the Greek, this phrase is, “I AM!” “I AM” takes us back to the book of Exodus, reminding us of God’s self disclosure of his name to Moses at the burning bush. Moses asked, “What is your name?” God replied, “I AM than I AM.” The name “I AM” reminds disciples of all generations that God is the self existent one, independent of his creation, without need or weakness. He is above the storms of life because he is above all the universe. He has no need and he hears no threat.
The disciples saw Jesus and heard Jesus, then trusted Jesus and invited him into the boat. The story concludes with verse 21, which says, “Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!” It’s good to see and hear Jesus, but you also need to invite him into your boat! It wasn’t until Jesus came into the problem that he resolved it. Could Jesus have calmed the storm from the water? Of course! But he identified with the twelve and participated in their struggle first.
John Ortberg, one of my favorite authors, wrote, “Peace does not come from the absence of storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.” I think that quote is telling, because many times we aren’t as interested in having Jesus on board as we are having the storm go away. Jesus got in the boat first, then calmed the storm.
My good friend Cliff Jenkins always says to his congregation, “Everyone is either coming out of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or headed into a storm.” I think he’s right. Wherever you find yourself today on that spectrum, remember the simple responses of the disciples who demonstrate how you can respond to your next challenge.
Have you ever been in a bad storm? When I was a kid, I can remember one particular night, huddled with my family around our console television trying to get weather information about the storm that raged outside. This, of course, antedated things like cable TV or doppler radar. As we watched the flickering images on the screen, my dad rose from his chair and said, “There’s a tornado!” I quickly looked out the window, wondering how he could know that since it was pitch black. Suddenly the house began to quiver and I could hear the roar of the twister. “Head to the basement,” was an unnecessary command as my family moved downstairs to the southwest corner as quickly as possible. The house trembled, the lights went out, then it was over. The power quickly came back on and we went upstairs to survey possible damage to our house.
The fifth miracle recorded in the Gospel of John tells the story of a storm that swept over the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. The story begins in verse 16, where the Bible says, “That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough.”
The New Testament talks a lot about “storms,” which serve as a good analogy for the struggles we experience in life. In the verses above, the Bible reports that it was dark which would have made it hard to see. The wind was strong, producing all kinds of external pressure on the disciples who were huddled together in that small wooden vessel. The rough waters would have made it difficult to stand or find balance, and I’m sure even these experienced fishermen felt more than a twinge of anxiety as the water lapped over the sides of the boat. The next verse also shares that they had rowed three or four miles. I think that effort would have felt futile as they wondered if they were simple going in circles.
You may be in a storm at sea, but you can identify with the despair that the disciples felt in our story. Your storm may take place every week when you sit down with your check book and your bills and try to make ends meet. It could be that your rough waters are relational, as you hope that your marriage commitment is strong enough to withstand challenging times. Perhaps your strong turbulence is related to your job, as you anxiously open your Outlook fearing news of lay offs.
We understand storms, and we understand despair. What did Jesus do for the disciples in the midst of their storm? What can we learn from this storm story that we can apply to our lives? Tomorrow I’ll post the rest of the story.
The disciple’s response to their present opportunity to meet significant human need was anemic and short sighted. From their own human reasoning, they “put a pencil to it” and “took inventory,” only to discover that their resources were inadequate. They were operating from an economy of scarcity. Jesus, who was always patient with their progress on a sometimes steep learning curve, demonstrated for them how to respond to big time opportunities.
John 6:10-13 continues the story, “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves (NLT).
All the disciples could envision was scarcity and inadequacy. The good news of the gospel is that God is abundant! Jesus took the simple lunch from a small boy and blessed it, broke it, and distributed it. The result? Everyone ate until they were satisfied and 12 baskets of scraps were left over.
Like you, I have a couple of pet peeves. (If you talk to my wife she’ll argue that I’ve surpassed two, but that’s another story!) Every time I hear someone say, “God won’t ask you to do more than you can handle,” I want to cringe. Think about it for a minute. Isn’t that the point of God? Isn’t God in the business of putting us in situations and circumstances that are beyond our own resources and capacities in order to demonstrate His power and glory?
When God wanted to start a new nation through which he could bless the world, where did He begin? He took two centurions, Abraham and Sarah, and told them they would have a child.
When God wanted to deliver two and a half million Israelite slaves from the oppressive servitude of Pharaoh, to whom did he turn for a deliverer? An 80 year old man named Moses.
When God desired to deliver his people from their enemies in Philistia, led by a 9’6” giant named Goliath, who did He call? A 5’9” 17 year old wet behind the ears harp strummer with nothing in his arsenal but a sling shot.
Of course God calls us to do more than we are capable of! The story of the Bible, in part, is a story of a God who calls the incompetent and incapable to do impossible things through divine enablement so that the name of God is enlarged.
Don’t let your inadequacy become an excuse. God is abundant!
“Philip replied, ‘Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them’” (John 6:7, NLT). In today’s language, Philip would have said, “I’ve sharpened the pencil on this, and we can’t afford it.” Some translations specify the amount Philip had in mind, 200 day’s wages, or about eight months salary. He simply couldn’t wrap his mind around what it would take to feed the multitude. The disciple’s personal resources were inadequate to meet the need.
The next verse details another common response. “Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. ‘There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd’?” (John 6:8-9, NLT) In other words, Andrew had taken an inventory of existing resources, only to discover that the people didn’t have enough to feed themselves. The crowd’s resources were also inadequate to meet the need.
Sharpen the pencil! Take an inventory! While the disciples earned an “A” in Business Administration, they received an “F” for faith. Although they felt inadequate when the opportunity to meet a need presented itself to them, who said they had to be?
Tomorrow I’ll post Jesus’ response to the disciples inadequacy and how He demonstrated the way to respond to the opportunities that interrupt our lives.
Last week our nation paused to honor the memory of September 11, 2001. As part of the remembrance, the National Geographic Channel produced a special series of interviews and reflections with people who were a part of that tragic event. I watched several of the shows, and was moved by the images and the conversations that described deep heroism and unparalleled bravery.
One of the most interesting episodes featured then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The mayor provided a moment by moment description of the fateful day from his vantage point, beginning with the story of where he was (a breakfast meeting) and how he first learned of the news. Giuliani relived those moments, commenting how as details became more complete, how overwhelmed he felt. Simultaneously, he spoke of the incredible weight of responsibility he sensed, largely due to his position as mayor.
You may not have had an interruption of that magnitude, but you probably can identify with how it feels to be interrupted by a significant need that demanded a response. Those needs that present themselves to us at the least of convenient times are opportunities that God provides us to be His presence in the world.
Jesus certainly did. In John 6:1-15, the Bible tells of a time when Jesus and his disciples retired to a hillside after an intensive period of meeting human need. A crowd, numbering between 5,000 and 15,000, depending on how literal you choose to take the enumeration, pressed upon Jesus and the 12 with their needs as well as high expectations.
Jesus turned to Philip and posed a simple question: “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” (John 6:6, HCSB). Jesus asked the question as a test, to see how Philip and his peers would respond to this interruption.
How do you respond to divine interruptions? Sometimes the need is so great we can’t help but feel inadequate to meet the need. This week I want to share somethings that I hope will help when you face those feelings of inadequacy, especially when they concern your life as a disciple of Christ.
Let me summarize this week’s series on chronic sin patterns with some practical advice that Paul offered in Romans 12. In verses 1-2, he wrote, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT).
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? You know, that annoying tune or lyric that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you try? I think that experience is a good example of why we struggle to overcome sin in our lives. When we see it, we don’t like it, and we want to be rid of it. No matter how hard we try to stop, it seems to get stronger and stronger. Just like that song stuck in our heads. The principle Paul offered in Romans 12:1-2 is that we overcome sin by replacement.
Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to give you a mathematical equation that you can solve. Don’t say the answer, simply think it. Ready? 3 + 4 = __________. Got it? Think about the answer. Now stop thinking it. No matter how hard we try to not think “7,” it seems to still be fixed in our minds.
Now let me give you a second equation. 2 + 6 = _________. Think about the sum of that equation. Now that you’re thinking “8,” what happened to “7?” It’s gone. You have replaced the value of 7 with a new value, 8. That’s what Paul is driving at when he writes of renewing our minds.
Sin in our lives becomes a value fixed in our minds. We can try to overcome it by avoidance techniques, but at the end of the day, the only way we can overcome it is to exchange the value with a greater value. When we sin we are placing value on a means that will satisfy some desire in life. But when we discover the surpassing greatness of Jesus and make him our supreme value, it diminishes the value we attach to sin.
In 1922, Helen Lemmel penned the lyrics to a hymn that expresses this more clearly than I could hope:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
If you have a song stuck in your head, the best way to get rid of it is to sing a new song.
Even though we wrestle with living in Romans 7, the promise that God offers is that “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2, NLT). In these two verses, Paul calls to mind two important facts about the believer’s relationship to sin.
First, our sin has already been dealt with. We “have been freed from the power of sin.” This directly correlates with the second important fact, which is that everything we need to overcome sin in our lives is already at our disposal. We have been forgiven and equipped to live free from sin. That’s the promise of God to his children!
Tomorrow I’ll finish up the series with Paul’s practical advice on how to get out of living in Romans 7 and into the living life as God intended.
The premise of the Christian life is that believers are empowered to live above the domination of sin. Through the grace of Christ, sin does not have control over our lives. We have the ability to have control over it. But there’s a problem. Even though we are free from the power that sin holds over us, we still sin.
Maybe you can identify with Paul’s frustration in the concluding verses of Romans 7. In that familiar passage, Paul stated that the thing he wants to do (live righteously, free from sin) he can’t; and the thing he doesn’t want to do (commit sin) is what he ends up doing. Sound familiar? I’ll admit, there’s a big part of me that is thankful for this passage. Paul described a feeling 2,000 years ago that clearly resonates with my heart.
Paul completes his confession with a simple request: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, HCSB).
When the reader of this passage comes across this verse, I think the first reaction to it is to admire Paul’s rhetorical genius. “Body of death” sounds poetic, but this image would have meant something tangible to the ancient audience. One of the methods of capital punishment that Rome had developed was to execute a person who committed murder with the corpse of the victim. The offender would be strapped arm to arm, chest to chest, leg to leg, and face to face with the corpse and left. Over time, as the corpse began to decompose, the decomposition process would begin to eat away at the body of the murdered, thus making it possible for the murder victim to avenge his own death. Though that image is quite graphic, it gives us an insight as to how Paul felt then and articulates our own feelings of frustration with our own ongoing sin today.
But notice how Paul phrased the question. He didn’t ask “what” will rescue me. He asked “who will rescue me?” Romans 7:25 is his hopeful answer: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Tomorrow I’ll return with part 4 of this series. Yes, Jesus is the answer to the sin problem! And His promise is found in the very next chapter.
So what do we do with those pesky habitual sins? I think one has to look no further than the Book of Romans for some timely words of wisdom.
In Romans 6:1-2, Paul offers the premise of the believer’s attitude toward sin. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT). Evidently the recipients of Paul’s letter were challenged by a false approach to grace. Some in their community of faith believed that if God’s grace was made available to them when they sinned, then logically the more they sinned, the more grace they could receive. Paul replied, “Not so fast,” which is 21st century speak for “God forbid! (KJV).”
If we’re going to appropriately respond to chronic patterns of sin in our lives, we have to begin with the premise that God’s plan is for his children to not sin. Some faith traditions believe that Christians can attain sinless perfection. I personally have not seen any place in the Bible that says we can become sinless. But I do think Christians should sin less.
I’m troubled any time I hear someone define themselves by their sin. I’m writing about those who wear their challenges as a label that has become their identity. The problem with that is that your identity is not your sin…any sin…no matter how deep or dark. Your identity is that you are a child of God, redeemed by his grace and made new. In Christ we are new creations. The old stuff is dead and everything is made new.
Sin, therefore, for the believer, is an act inconsistent with his or her character, nature, and identity. Understanding who we are in Christ is the first step in dealing with our sin. Tomorrow I’ll offer the second step in Paul’s progression from Romans. In the meantime, spend some time thinking about your nature and character in Christ. Your true identity is that you are a child of God.
Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded. The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him (John 5:1-15, NLT).
The third miracle Jesus performed in the Gospel of John seems pretty straight forward. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem, and on a particular day walked through an area, the Pool of Bethesda, which had a dense population of sick people. Some were crippled, some were blind. Apparently they stayed by the pool due to a superstition that claimed an angel would occasionally come down from heaven to the pool and stir the water. The first one into the pool when the water was stirred would be healed of their infirmity. There is no historical evidence that this belief was anything other than superstition. In fact, better translations footnote this portion of the passage because it is not in the oldest, most reliable Greek manuscripts.
Of all the people at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus singled out one man who has suffered some form of paralysis for 38 years. Jesus asked him plainly, “Do you want to get well?” When I ask simple questions like this to my children, they sometimes reply, “Duh, dad!” The reader would expect that the lame man would answer Jesus directly and affirmatively, but he didn’t. He simply made excuses. He told Jesus how he didn’t have help to get into the pool when the water stirred. He described others who were able to race ahead of him selfishly to get into the water. Never mind the fact he had been waiting his turn for 38 years.
I love the plainspoken manner of Jesus. He had little tolerance for excuses, and commanded him to “stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.” And so he did.
Like I said, this is pretty simple and straightforward. But there’s a twist. The healed man did what Jesus said. He stood up, picked up his mat, and began to walk. As he walked, he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day, who rebuked him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. When they inquired how he was healed, he described a man who was no longer in sight.
Being healed of a disease that had ravaged his strength for nearly four decades is certainly cause of praise and thanksgiving. The scene moves to the Temple, where the healed man must have offered thanks to God for the miraculous healing. In the Temple he meets Jesus, who simply says, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Didn’t see that one coming! Did Jesus just imply that the reason for his long term disability was his sin? Yes.
I don’t believe that every instance of adversity or suffering is the direct result of some sin we have committed. Without a doubt, we live in a fallen world and our depravity does create complications. But it’s not fair to assume that every illness or problem we experience is the consequence of some sin we have committed. In John 5, however, that is precisely the case. He had been disabled for 38 years as the consequence of a sin or sins he had committed.
Sin is its own consequence. This week I want to offer some practical stuff from Romans regarding how to deal with chronic sin patterns in our lives. I hope that you’ll check back each day, because Jesus wants each of us to be “well” and to live “well.” In the meantime, think about this: What sin(s) in your life is keeping you from living life as God intended?