A Long Hard Pull

Reading Mark 6

Sometimes God asks us to move in a certain direction and it ends up being a long hard pull into the wind.  It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of sustained effort and any slacking off results in lost ground.  It calls us to a new level of focus, trust and determination. We recognize we cannot do it on our own.

So it was with the disciples. Jesus had said that they should get away and get some rest. However, the crowds followed because they wanted to hear more, wanted to see more, had a hunger for this Kingdom of God stuff that Jesus was presenting in such a fresh way.  After the miraculous feeding (5,000 men they counted), Jesus sent them across the lake in their boat while he went up the mountain to pray.   The wind came up and the disciples, bless their hearts, were determined to stick to the course, had to put down the sails and row into the wind.  Rowing into the wind is a tough pull, you need to be together and consistent or the wind pushes you back.  The boat is built to move through the water and it can be done, but it calls for disciplined, continued effort.  As they pull away and try not to lose ground and keep for their destination they are startled by Jesus walking on the water.  The passage says he went out to them, but was about to pass by them.  I suspect they stopped rowing and began to bob about in the wind and the waves, thinking they saw a ghost, worried about their immediate future on a whole other level.

Have you ever had something interrupt your world and focus in such a way that it challenged everything you believe and made you wonder if this was your last moment?  This was likely what the disciples were thinking, Jesus responds with “Take courage, It is I. Do not be afraid.”  These are such great words, reassuring words, hope bringing words. It is often the case that a close encounter with God rocks our understanding of reality, but it is always the case that God is calling us to Him and the way to Him is the best way.  Our fears and mis-perceptions need some calming, God’s way is best, trusting in God in the winds of adversity and the uncertainty of what we see –even a ghost! 

He climbed in the boat and the wind immediately calmed down and they were amazed.  I think there is a lot of understatement in this section.  It says they did not understand about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.  The lesson of the loaves?  When you are out of resources, God has your back.  Jesus provided the food for the people, He can take care of their crossing the lake, He can take care of your need.  That may not appear as you imagined, it may even seem frightening, but it is the best way.  Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 

Whatever you are pulling hard at, keep at it, but look to God for your resources and hope. God may calm the storm as you trust in Him, and He is ‘in the boat’ with you!


From Faith To Religion.

1Samuel 15 relates the story of how King Saul went from having faith to being religious and along the way, lost the crown.  One of the parts of this story that really resonates with me is Samuel’s emotional pain due to this transition, up all night praying for Saul when God brings His decree, and Samuel mourned for Saul –not for the loss of being King, but for the loss of relationship with God. 

Here’s the basics of the story…

Saul was sent by God to destroy Amalek for their attacking Israel as they came up from Egypt. Saul set off, but decided to bring back their King, Agog, and the best of the livestock. The first as a trophy, the second to ‘sacrifice to God’ –waste not, want not. God speaks to Samuel, the prophet, that night and tells him Saul is done as King. Saul has turned from God and disobeyed his instructions.  When Samuel, sleepless, meets Saul the next day Saul greets him by saying “We have obeyed God, destroyed everything and brought back sacrifices and King Agog.”  Hmmm, there is something wrong with this statement, isn’t there?  Once confronted, Saul confesses he has sinned and wants to be restored before the people.  Wait!  Notice what is missing? Shouldn’t he want to be restored in his relationship with God?  The bigger issue was not Saul’s disobedience, but his turning away from God.  Religion is great –when we have a relationship with God and follow God.  Religion is a problem –when we use it to get or maintain and position/reputation/identity before people.  Jesus taught that the greatest commandment of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament is to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.”

God wants our obedience, but in context of our relationship; loving God and being loved by God. Mere obedience is religion. Faith is engagement in relationship with God, out of which flows a passion for obedience.  May you develop a hunger to follow God, discovering His great love for you and learning to return that love.

Hear For You

The other day I made a type in a Facebook comment, using ‘hear’ for ‘here’. A friend commented; “did you hear that Greg?” It is a common typo spell checkers don’t always flag for our attention.

We often say to friends and neighbours in crisis ‘if you need anything, I am here for you.’ We say it because we don’t know what else to say, and we suspect words may not be helpful in a time of grief or crisis. I am here for you. People will say later on that the significance was not due to your actions as much as your presence. The practice of just being with someone in their time of need, sitting, listening –hear for you. Someone may not even need to talk, but to know that you are there is a great comfort and security to them –here for you.

Jesus said; “those who come to me I will not cast out.” (John 6:37)

Jesus is here for us.

John wrote: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1John 5:14)

Jesus is hear for us.

Know that God is listening for you and to you. God created us to be in relationship with Him, and will not force us into relationship, but waits. Granted there is a limit to that waiting, for at some point we will die and face judgement, or the end of time will come and all will stand before the throne of God.

God calls us too, to listen. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). We can extend our presence to God –here for you. This includes our actions, our ministry on behalf of God’s Kingdom, and to a deeper relationship –hear for you. To wait on God means to be here for God, to be present with God and allow God to be present with us. “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). This is an invitation to enter into ‘here for you’. It is an invitation for our commitment to be ‘hear for you.” To quiet our hearts before God is not an abandonment of who we are, it is not an emptying of our self. It is a focus and release of ourselves to God. God created us for relationship and desire relationship with us. The best image of a child that is weaned resting on it’s mother’s breast. (Psalm 131:2). Gone is the search and striving for nourishment and comfort, there is a peace on contentment in presence. A peaceful and secure ‘here for you’, ‘here with you’.

Commit your way to the LORD the Bible prompts us in Psalm 37:5. Enter into the presence of God through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the person of Jesus. Present yourself to God “I am here for you.”, and commit your life to God “I am hear for you.” As we listen, God will speak. Sometimes it is a long road to get to the place where we can hear and absorb. Mother Teresa had long stretches of time in her life where God seemed silent and far away, but she retained her commitment and pressed in close, waiting for the time when she would again know the intimate presence of God. As she waited she served. Here for you. Sometimes that hearing from God seems spontaneous, God breaks into our lives when we are motoring along and perhaps not in a listening mode –although committed to being ‘hear for you’. Moses seeking a lost sheep stumbles across the burning bush. Just living his life out and God comes –here with you, this is Holy ground. I have heard the cries of my people –hear for you.

Our faith is a response to God. Jesus came to earth as a human to ‘here for you’, Jesus hung on the cross ‘here for you.’ This one is not merely God in our presence, but God being our presence, our substitute on the cross. Here for you. Even while hanging on the cross Jesus responded to the request of the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Hear for you.

May you today, discover God ‘here for you’ as you present yourself to God ‘here for you’. May you know the voice of God as you listen ‘hear for you’. May you enter into the presence of God with your hope and pain, successes and failures, convictions and uncertainties –to present these to God and wait, ‘hear for you’.

To Lift A Cup…

Reading Isaiah 55:1-3

“Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money, come buy and eat.” The invitation found in Isaiah 55 declares that, without money, we can buy and eat. What then, is the cost? Our cost is coming (to God), and acknowledging our thirst. For some, this is pretty steep. We value independence and self-sufficiency. We want to live our lives our way. Here is the biggest struggle of faith for most of us, that we must come to God and we must acknowledge our thirst. Implicit in this is that we cannot quench that thirst without God. We often seek fill the reservoir of our lives with things, accomplishments and community/family. Isaiah understands this and asks “why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?” The things of this earthy ultimately do not bring us meaning, purpose or satisfaction. With God is the richest of fare, satisfaction and security that meets the need of our souls, our eternal craving. Isaiah beckons us to give ear and to come see, to investigate, to find out for ourselves. The objective of that investigation? That your soul may live. That your soul may live… oh the waste of a great life wrapped around a desiccated, dead soul. The deal God offers, His covenant, is everlasting. In this new year of 2015, may you look to God, acknowledge your thirst and drink deeply from the well of His love for you. May your soul be invigorated and blossom into a rich faith. Happy New Year!

Marriage Postives

We have been lead to understand that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and that the divorce rate among Christians is no different than the rest of society. Thankfully recent study and analysis reveals the inaccuracy of those statistics. The reality is that, in Canada, 67% of marriages last a lifetime! In the USA the divorce rate for first time marriages is around 28%. In Canada 41% of men in a common law relationship consider themselves committed.

So the reality is that marriage is in way better shape than we have been told. Those who are married live longer, are generally wealthier, can climb out of poverty easier and have happier children. If you are married there is a greater likelihood you can make it than not! If you are considering marriage the stats show that it is a positive step. That doesn’t mean that marriages don’t take work. Marriage is hard, sacrificial work. It does, however, mean that the effort is more often worth your while.

Scriptures tell us that marriage is God’s plan for men and women. For this reason, the writer of Genesis tells us a man will leave his mother and father and be united with his wife. The idea that the divorce rate amongst Christians was the same as the rest of society came from people checking a box that they would identify themselves as Christians. But if further questions were asked –do you read your Bible? Do you pray regularly? Do you attend worship services?- those who answered in the affirmative had a divorce rate 30-50% lower than the general population -15%!

To have a strong marriage, maintain a strong spiritual life. The more you love God and realize you are loved by God, the easier it is to love others –especially your spouse. May you be encouraged in your marriage relationship with God’s help.

Stormy Weather

Reading Matthew 8:21-27

It’s been a busy day under the hot sun, Jesus teaching and healing. The disciples and the master are off in the boat to cross the sea to the other side. A good chunk of the disciples are fishermen, so they know boats and the sea.  However, the other side is the Decapolis (the ten city region), which is not a Jewish area, it is full of the ‘other’, the gentiles.  Jesus has worked hard and is tired, he falls asleep in the boat.  One of those sudden Galilee storms comes out of the blue, the boat is rocking and rolling in the waves, visibility down to nothing, even the fishermen are fearing for their lives –this is the evil that is from the deep!  Jewish people of that day and era were primarily a dry land people, for them, evil lived in the depths of the waters.  In their panic they see Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat and wake him up, “Lord save us, we are going to drown!” 

Jesus wakes up, assesses the situation and first addresses the disciples. “Oh you of little faith. Why are so afraid?”  Then He rebuked the wind and waves and is was completely calm.  Consider the stunned silence of the disciples –the echoes of the roaring wind in their ears, the adrenaline pumped to the max in their expectation of tragedy and death – now calm.  That is how it often is when we cease struggling and give ourselves over to God, the rush of divine calm. It too is stunning, and we may  wonder if it was really that bad…  

What was the littleness of their faith in this instance?  Was it the fear of death? This is early in their following of Jesus, in fact the whole group of disciples has not yet been assembled. Their faith was young, tender and growing.  Having been with Jesus, they had not really grasped who Jesus was for them, something that would happen time and time again until Pentecost.  We often cling to a fear of death, in the immediacy of an impending life tragedy, in the slow and persistent march of years.  But in Christ Jesus, death is defeated.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians “where oh death is your victory?  …but thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Death is no match for faith, we need not fear it.  Perhaps our faith can grow to the place Paul found himself –torn- wanting to be with the LORD, which would be far better, or to stay around and be productive for the Kingdom (Philippians 1:23).

Was the littleness of their faith an inability to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all things?  God is in control.  If we live, we live to the Lord, if we die, we die to the LORD.  The Psalmist said that our days are written in Gods’ book (139:16).  God is sovereign, and Jesus, a member of the Trinity is all powerful.  God’s will, will be done on earth as it is heaven.  Surely a storm cannot stop what is God’s plan?

Or perhaps, their littleness of faith had to do with the intervention of evil, the attack of the enemy!  Keeping in mind their view of the evil residing in the deep, it may fit that this was an attack by the evil one to try and delay or derail the ministry of Jesus. Anyone who decides to follow Jesus is at odds with the prince of this world and can expect some sort of resistance.  Peter mentions that our enemy roams about roaring like a lion, looking for whom he may devour, fear is a weapon of the devil.  This same Peter, who was on the boat, tells believers to stand firm in their faith and let nothing move them, he is a defeated lion, nearly toothless (and ultimately he cannot snatch our hope away).  Jesus knew what he was about and more than once said that it was ‘not yet his time’.  In the recollection of this event we are reminded that evil cannot stand against Jesus, He is completely victorious; then on the sea of Galilee, at the cross, now seated at the right hand preparing a place, and upon His second coming to institute the fullness of His kingdom!

May you find the calmness of God in release to Him. In the storm of your life, external or internal, give yourself over to God; “Lord save me, I am about to drown!”
May you know the strength to stand and trust the sovereign LORD with your life, His will be done in earth as it is in Heaven!

Knowledge & Power

Reading Ephesians 3:14-21

As I read Paul’s prayer I am struck this morning by the contrast.  Our world values knowledge and power because they give us the ability to control and overcome, to be on top –or at least less on the bottom.  Power is the ability to dominate circumstances and environment for our benefit –and often does not consider the cost to our circumstances and environment, as long as we come out on top.  Knowledge gives us the ability to understand and control our circumstances and environment. As we gain knowledge and power we gain the ability to master that which impedes our progress.  Power and knowledge put us in the lead and we like being ahead.

Paul prayers that we –you- will have power.  That you will be strengthened with power in your inner being.  This is a sought after power, not merely strength, but inner strength –fortitude!  But his purpose for this prayer is not the ability to be in greater control.  His purpose is that Christ may dwell in our hearts.  Christ only dwells where he is invited and given Lordship.  It takes great power to yield, to abandon our self to God by committing to Christ.  This is the path of faith, the power of inner being is not dominate or control, but to yield. To completely trust in Jesus Christ is to completely abandon our selves into Him and allow Him to be our master.  Paul prays that we –you- will have power of knowledge. Not the mere knowledge of life or religion or theology, but knowledge of God’s love. This is no mere acquisition of facts or, but an engagement with the God who is love.  It is not something He does but something that He is.  His love permeates reality, to grasp the extent and expanse of God’s love allows us to be filled with the fullness of God.  Power that does not enable to know all things and dominate all things, but to know that we are loved by God.  The fullness of God is about being loved, and loving in return.  We give up our desire to dominate and control, to be our own master, and let Jesus be the Master. For that, God gives us power. 

The section finishes with a favourite benediction –to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.  Today, why not seek this power and knowledge? Why not let the Holy Spirit give you this power –power to yield, power to know how much you are loved, power to know the fullness of God in your life?  Here I am LORD, I am yours, fill me…