Monthly Archives: December 2012

When Storms Threaten to Sink You

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”    Mark 4:35-41

There’s a false idea floating around in the world today that can sink your faith in God.  It goes something like this:  If you really follow God, then your life will be great.  And not just average great–but really great!  No pain, no stress, no difficult circumstances, no storms.  The catch?  You just gotta believe (and if you do that well enough, then you achieve a spiritual state of nirvana in your life today).

Yes, we need faith.  Yes, we gotta believe.  But look at this passage and cut yourself some slack.

The disciples were following Jesus by faith.  They had already left their family businesses and careers behind.  While they certainly didn’t have everything figured out, they were doing their best to follow Jesus.  While they struggled to trust in God’s care for them, they at least took steps of faith where others wouldn’t.

You will face storms in life.  And some of these storms will rattle your faith to the core.  You’ll wonder if you are really a child of God.  You feel as if all is lost and you’re on a hopeless journey.  Life will threaten to drown you–and leave no trace of your existence.

But this story reminds us that Jesus will be with us during those moments.

Sure, storms can be needed practice for learning how to trust him more.  And yes, we will handle most of these in a clumsy way, looking back with a hindsight that will feel more like a kick in the pants than a pat on the shoulder.

But look again–this story reminds you that Jesus is with you no matter where you go.  No matter how high the waves or how much your boat is filling with water, Jesus cares.  You can rest, because you can say to your heart and your mind:  Jesus is here.

In this story, that one factor made all the difference in the world.  And in your story, that one factor will make the same difference too.  Will you surrender your life today to Christ?  Will you invite him to be the Captain of your ship?

Application Questions:

1.  Are you in a storm right now?  How does this story give you encouragement?

2.  Do you think Jesus was sleeping in order to challenge or grow the faith of the disciples?  Why or why not?

3.  How did this episode increase the faith of the disciples from this point on?  How do your trials and difficult circumstances strengthen your faith in God?

 

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Do You Have Mustard Seed DNA?

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.  He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.   Mark 4:30-33

Do you ever struggle with feelings of insignificance?  To be honest, we all do.

There’s something inside of us that yearns to make a lasting impact upon the world.  This is why people who donate money to churches, universities, and other public places like to have their names on display.  It’s a way for them to have some kind of lasting legacy that outlives them and goes on.  I often wonder how many people would give these kinds of larger donations if their names were NOT made known.

Ray Bradbury in his epic novel, Fahrenheit 451, writes:  “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus speaks to our desire for significance.  He recognizes that each of us has this inner desire to ‘make our mark’ on the world around us.  And surprising us all, he speaks to this hard-wiring in each of us from an upside-down perspective.

Jesus reminds us of God’s all-pervasive kingdom which touches upon every area of life.  But it’s an upside-down kingdom.  It starts off as something small–something apparently insignificant.  It’s tiny–like a mustard seed (the smallest of known seeds in Bible times).

But this little seed packs a powerful punch.  It grows and grows and grows, until finally it provides a huge presence and provision for other things as well.  In other words, it becomes exponentially useful compared to its original size and appearance.

This is exactly what God wants to do with your life.

As you surrender your life to Christ, God wants to use you in exponential ways.  He desires to multiply His kingdom life through you to others.  No one is meant to live an insignificant life in God’s eyes.  For the true follower of Christ, this is simply not possible.

How is a plant healthy?  First, it has a good root system.  Then it draws nourishment from the soil.  The sunlight gives it daily strength and energy to continue its growth.  It produces flowers and finally fruit.

An unhealthy plant is disconnected and in the dark.  It withers and dies.  It never reaches its potential.

In God’s garden of life, which are you?

Are you someone whose roots go deep in Christ and his Word, the Scriptures?  Does prayer, Bible study, and worship play key roles in your spiritual life?  Or are you disconnected from God, with no roots in His Word, and no sunshine of worship shining in and through you?

Application Questions:

1.  A healthy plant grows.  Are you growing in your relationship with God?  How do you know for sure?

2.  A healthy plant bears fruit.  What kind of fruit are you bearing from your relationship with Christ?  Are you leading others to him?

3.  Where do the roots of true significance grow?  In the world around us which is based upon power politics, military muscle, and outward beauty?  Or in God’s economy where random acts of kindness are opportunities to glorify God and in which true sacrifice is the divine currency?

To Grow or Not to Grow, That is the Question!

“And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”   Mark 4:26-29

If you could have anything, what would you want?  A new car?  A better job?  Better looks? 

To be honest, we’ve all got a list of things that we’d love to have.  And most of these things probably won’t matter in the long run?  You doubt that?  Go to the nearest cemetery, and find out who looked the best at prom?  Who had the most money?  Or drove the nicest car?  Or had the biggest house? 

See what I mean.  That’s how most of the things we chase after in life really are–like sand in your hand.  You’ve got it for a few moments, and then one day it’s all gone.

Jesus knows we struggle with these kinds of desires.  After all, he lived long enough in our world to see how people really are.  He’s no stranger to desire–but his desires are of a different caliber than most of ours. 

In this parable, Jesus is challenging you to want something very specific.  It’s not something money can buy, nor is it something that will likely make you more popular.  But it is something that is of lasting value.

What is it?  He describes the Kingdom of God as a living growth or pursuit.  It’s a pursuit to bear fruit–to multiply.  To be what you were designed by God to be.

Did you catch that?  Your destiny in Christ is to pursue a heart that grows in your relationship with God!  That’s what you’re made to do!  Nothing else will come close to satisfying you.  Not piles of money, Vegas-style pleasures or winning lottery tickets.  Instead, you’re made to have a heart that pursues God.

This pursuit is just as sure as the growth that the farmer sees in his fields.  It’s not up for speculation, hesitation, or debate.  In modern language, it’s a no brainer.

But why do we forget this?  Why do we live as if we were made for things–instead of this one thing?

It’s because we are fallen, broken, and sinful people.  We are spring-loaded to pursue things for our own glory instead of God’s.  We are hard-wired to build idols as soon as we can grasp with our tiny, newborn hands.  Only by the grace of God working by the Holy Spirit within us can we live with a different pursuit that takes us outside of ourselves to live on a completely different plane of existence (like Jesus).  Some might call this sensational fanaticism.  Jesus calls it living for and in the Kingdom of God.  Would others say this describes you?

Application Questions:

1.  If you died today, would the people at your funeral be in agreement that you lived with a heart that pursued God? Or with a heart that chased after other things?

2.  What’s the biggest thing standing in your way of really living in pursuit of God?  Or is it just an excuse that you keep using (like a drug) to do your own thing?

3.  How do you know if your heart is growing in your relationship with God?  Would your family and friends (those closest to you) agree that it is?  Or are you just fooling yourself?

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Is Faith Really Just a Private Matter?

“And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”   And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”   Mark 4:21-25

It’s been said that when sharing a meal with friends, there are two subjects that are taboo and should be avoided at all costs:  Politics and Religion.  And so we end up confining most of the dinner table conversations to shallow chit-chat that misses what’s at the heart of people’s lives:  a thirst for how things should be (Politics) and a hunger to know how we should be (Religion).  And so we somehow share a meal without ever really sharing the questions and inner workings of what’s in our hearts–the sharing of our lives.

But Jesus wants to change all that.  He wants to free us from the confines of our own bashfulness by providing us with the inner light of His love and presence that cannot be hidden.  To hide the light–to hide his glorious presence in our lives–is to forget who we truly are.  It’s like a Republican wearing an Obama pin or a Democrat speaking at a Tea Party rally.

In this passage, Jesus remind his followers that being true to him is being true to themselves.  He is the Light that should shine through our lives.  Anything else is to be less than who we were made to be–and dare I say, less human?  Yes, it may be more ‘politically correct’ to police our own conversations, but Jesus didn’t try to win polls–and neither should we.

Think of your life:  are you letting the light of Christ shine?  In your daily friendships and interactions would people see a glimmer of your faith in Christ?  In our text above, Jesus is reminding us that as we pursue a life after him (and a life with him at the same time), to hold back is like holding your breath in order to lose weight–it just doesn’t make sense AND it has disastrous results.  Beloved, let your Savior shine through you and become more of the man or woman God made you to be!

Application Questions:

1.  Think of the last 72 hours.  In all of the many social interactions you’ve had, how did Christ shine through you?

2.  If a light is meant to shine–then it is also meant to be seen.  How do people see Christ alive in you and through you?

3.  The last few verses in this passage seem to indicate negative consequences of hiding the light of Christ in your life.  How do these play out in our modern world today?

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