Having a Gut-Honest Talk with Jesus

Jesus asleep

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38 NIV

I have been told that the stern is the strongest part of the boat. The Creator of the universe was asleep there.

The One who made the waters and was there when the waters were parted; who led Moses as Moses led the people through on dry ground — that same One had His head on a cushion — sleeping soundly.

The One who walked with three guys in the fiery furnace — in all of His current humanity — had decided He needed some rest.

The disciples, however, had apparently lost sight of the fact that, Jesus was not only human — not only needing rest — He was also God. Creator. Master.

The One who was asleep was never out of control. He was never without a plan. (It was His idea to get in the boat.)

I am reminded that I forget the same thing at times. I accuse Jesus of not caring. Of not being aware of my current situation.

No, I don’t say that — at least not very loud. I have too much respect for the Creator to do that. So, I just mumble it under my breath — or think it loudly — as if He who reads the heart doesn’t already know.

Have you ever felt like the disciples felt?

Have you ever wondered if Jesus cared?

Has the thought crossed your mind that Jesus might not even be aware of your current situation?

Have you thought, “Jesus, I see my problems, don’t you?”

Or maybe, if you are completely honest, have you ever felt something like, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

Wow!

Of course, our spiritual piety would never allow us to admit our weakness in this area fully. Could I as a pastor really admit that I doubted His love?

Could you?

Yet if I am honest, sometimes from my perspective, it appears that Jesus is nowhere to be found when I need Him most and I am left all alone to wallow in my sorrows.

Did I just say that?

I think the best thing we can possibly do in those situations is to be like the disciples and admit our frailty to God.

And, here’s the truth we may know but not always live.

When we get gut honest with Jesus about our insufficiency — is often when He is most willing to do what only He can do.

Do you need to have an honest talk with Jesus today?

7 Ways to Better Enjoy Reading the Bible

Christian woman reading a Bible

I’ll never forget the day a young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realize she was very serious.

“Well…no!”, I thought, but didn’t say.

The Bible is THE BOOK!

There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

That wasn’t a new concern. I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I did suggest this girl could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3. YouVersion will even read the Bible to you. But then I told her I’d give her some more suggestions.

That’s what prompted this post. The reality is I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you understand and process it. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading — even to help you enjoy it. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easy for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest HCSB, NIV or NLT for a more literal but very readable version, ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation, or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message Version. I read some of each of these for my studies and casual reading. (I wrote a post on how to select a version HERE.)

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Find a small group. That’s what church is great for at providing. Or find a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work. Studying the Scripture with a community helps energize you as you learn. When you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm to study even more.

Timing – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few verses or a story for a day — or a week. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John are good places to start. And, find the right setting. A comfortable chair, an open field — morning, noon or night — what works best for you. And, for as long as you can. Don’t put a time limit on it that adds more burden to the experience.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Use the Table of Contents. No shame. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful. And, when you aren’t certain, ask someone you trust who understands the Bible.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s Author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author.
The greater your love grows with God the easier Bible reading becomes — and the more enjoyable. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

What would you add to my list?

7 Suggestions When God Is Silent

Here Are My Prayers

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I can imagine the stress he experienced during those years.

Something strikes me, however, that seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1:

“After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was three and a half years long. For three and a half years, the people apparently continued to sin, Elijah continued to hold on by faith, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive…not speaking…even to His great servant Elijah during this time.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily strong?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving…God is using you…you are in constant communication with Him…and then suddenly…everything is quiet. You have to wait.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah is not liked and unpopular. He’s an outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent.

God would soon do a miracle through Elijah…one he couldn’t even imagine…certainly not script, but during this period all Elijah could do was wait.

If you have been follower of Christ very long, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. We often call them periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You don’t need much help doing that. The tough part of life is figuring out what to do during the years of silence…during the years when miracles are seemingly nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritually dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God?

Here are 7 suggestions for those times:

Don’t ignore the silence… – Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness…when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. Stay very close to God and watch for Him to eventually display His power. He will in the fullness of time.

Confront known sin in your life – This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, but the problem for the Israelites was that they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now, but if you have known sin in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

Go back to what you know – Get back to the basics of the faith that saved you. You’ll do it 100’s of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith…which is the very character and promises of God. God is in control. He really is…even when it doesn’t seem that He is anywhere to be found.

Make a decision…Choose sides – You can’t adequately serve God and the world. (Consider Joshua 24:15) Something happens in life, often sin, busyness, boredom, or a tragedy…but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your obedience, get back securely on the right side.

Trust More…Not less – Times of silence may be filled with fear, but ironically, these times require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. That’s not an indication to quit…it may be that God is using that time for something bigger than you could have imagined…but whatever is next will most likely require a deeper level of trust.

Listen and Watch Closely – Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. Don’t miss them. He may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know that God is moving. (Read THIS POST if you need help discerning God’s will.)

Get ready to receive – God will break the silence some day…and when He does it WILL be good. If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence.

Are you in one of those periods of silence today? How do you handle these periods of time?

The little tree that could…

tree

I saw this little tree while I was running in our local arboretum this fall.

It made me stop and take a picture. It also made me think.

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but this tree is not very big. Not a whole lot taller than me.

It reminded me of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

And, some other principles about little things.

This little tree, one of the smallest in the park, is doing its part, in a marvelous way.

Displaying God’s glory through the amazing colors of fall.

In fact, this was one of the prettiest trees I saw all season.

It made me look. It made me stop. It prompted this post.

And, I was reminded.

Sometimes it is the smallest that brings the greatest impact.

When God chooses, He can use the smallest, or seemingly insignificant, to bring Him the greatest glory.

Because, ultimately, there are no minor players in God’s economy. He works all things for good.

Don’t overlook the small things in life today.

The small gesture. The one kind word. The small start. The beginning stages. The often overlooked. The gentle whisper.

The small things may actually be the big things.

Do not despise these small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10)

Don’t Look Back! Lessons from Lot’s Wife

Remember Lot’s wife! Luke 17:32 NIV

Remember Lot’s wife?

Lot’s wife looked back. She took her eyes off the path of the Lord. She looked back to the world instead of forward to God’s plan for her life.

Prior to God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with Him on the people’s behalf. Abraham bargained with God until it was clear there was no one righteous.

In God’s mercy, He allowed Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family to escape, but He gave strict instruction to them not to look back. Lot’s wife, consumed perhaps with the sin in the city she was leaving behind, looked back and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

Jesus told us to remember Lot’s wife.

When we look back, when we fail to see Jesus. We are taken from the blessings and protection that comes from following God exclusively and left to our own defense. Our independence causes us to miss the mercy of God.

Have you been drifting from the truths you know? Have you been wandering in your faith? Have you been neglecting your obedience to God? Have you taken your eyes off Christ?

Remember Lot’s wife today!

Fear Devotional, Part 5

Fear

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. Genesis 46:3 NIV

Jacob was obedient to God because he shifted from fear to faith.

If you recall the story, Jacob would have to leave for Egypt, a foreign land, in search of food and to see his son Joseph again, whom he thought was dead. It could have meant death for him and his remaining sons too. And, he was old. Past the prime risk-taking years. He had faced so many trials and disappointments in life…many he brought on himself…but at the end of his life, Jacob was willing to face his fears and walk by faith again.

In fact, he had a history of times he moved from fear to faith.

All of us will have fear. Fear began with the fall of mankind and, since we still live in a fallen world, we are still subject to fear. We shouldn’t be surprised when we are afraid when facing something that seems beyond our abilities or when the outcome of the situation is unknown. That’s natural in a fallen world.

To counter our nature we must do something spiritual. We must place our faith in something…really SOMEONE…who has the power and ability to accomplish what appears to be the impossible…the unnatural. That someone, of course, is the Creator God. The controller of nature. When we place our trust in God, He takes our inabilities and turns them into His abilities. Then, working all things towards an ultimate good, He works through our situations and circumstances to bring about His final plan. Our job in all this is to be obedient…in spite of our fears…by placing our complete faith in Him.

What is that fear that has you stagnant right now?

Perhaps you need to move from fear to faith!

Do something which may seem unnatural, depending on your circumstances. Turn your fear into a complete and total trust in God. Then watch Him do His miracle work and transform your situation into a glorious tribute to His power and strength.

Let me give you an easy 4 steps to begin this process:

1)Admit your fear

2)Renew your faith

3)Obey completely

4)Repeat steps 1 through 4

Again. And again. And again.

Fear Devotional, Part 4

Scared Afraid Man Wrapped in Red Fear Tape

He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:17

There is something about fear and faith working together that intrigues me. It seems, at least in my life, that the times of greatest fear are the times God is calling me to display the greatest faith. I wonder (really I know) God does this so the attention and glory will not be on me, but on Him who can do all things. Somehow, if I was able to easily accomplish what God asked me to do, or even to endure, it wouldn’t make God seem that special; even that important.

Of course, God is special. His glory created the Heavens and the earth. He really doesn’t “need” me for anything. He chooses to use me simply to display His glory and honor. To do this, He must do through me things I couldn’t do apart from Him. So, He calls me to God-sized tasks that require an increase in faith beyond what I have ever experienced previously. It may be to move in some new area of my life or to simply remain patiently as I wait for Him to move again, but both require faith. Each new challenge grows my faith to another level.

What is God calling you to do today that is bigger than you; that in order to accomplish it will require an even greater display of faith than you have ever displayed before?

  • Is it to end a relationship you know is not God-honoring?
  • Is it to begin a new chapter in your career life?
  • Is it to step out in faith into some ministry opportunity?
  • Is it to forgive the person who hurt you the most?
  • Is it to simply trust Him with your finances, your family or your future?

Once you know God is calling you to something and you become afraid, the question then is what are you going to do about it? Will you reside in fear or surrender by faith to God’s plan for your life?

As Henry Blackaby says, “What you do next reveals what you believe about God!”

That choice, my friend, is yours!

Fear Devotional, Part 3

Fear

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:15 NIV

Sarah couldn’t believe God’s plan for her life was to have a child. So she laughed at His plan.

She was too old. It had been so long. Could God do this? Would God even use someone like her for such a plan?

It was probably scary to simply trust by faith…she had been disappointed many times…she didn’t want to hurt again…so she laughed.

Sarah’s probably not alone in her fear. Was she?

I’ve had those kinds of fears. Many times.

Chances are you have also. You know God is calling you to do something, but the thought of actually obeying God in the matter freaks you out…scares you to death. You know what it’s like to fail. You don’t feel you have what it takes. Could God do this? Would He do it with you?

Walk by faith…or laugh at the plan? Trust or run. Face fears or fold to them. Those are your options.

But know this…

Faith believes something that you cannot see.

The unseen or unknown is scary, so fear is a natural reaction to God’s plan for your life. God calls us to the unknown. God is always calling us to the unknown. His ways are not our ways. His plans are usually larger than we have imagined. God calls us to walk by faith, facing something we cannot see, and that in turn brings fear into our hearts.

So, what’s the fear that will require faith for you to accomplish?

Perhaps there is a better question:

If you are obedient, what kind of glory will God receive through your faith in Him?

Don’t laugh at what you sense God is calling you to do (or at least not for long). God calls people to tasks beyond our ability or understanding everyday! Maybe this is your day!

Walk closer to faith than fear. I’m praying for you.