Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

“Panic, or Peace? Fear, or Faith?”

“That day when evening came, he (Jesus) said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 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?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Mark 4:35-39

Tornadoes plowed through North Carolina recently, destroying most everything in their path and sending many to seek shelter from the storm that was reported to have "splintered trees like baseball bats". I cringed as I heard a story recalled by one who had survived the storm. The man told of how he grabbed his cousin’s 3-month old baby and headed for a closet in an attempt at safety. My heart beat faster, my breathing picked up and my hair stood on end as in tears he explained how the wind was so strong it plucked the baby right from his very arms and sent the helpless infant swirling into the dark sky. Immediately after the raging winds ceased, the man along with neighbors frantically searched through the rubble in search of the precious child the winds had claimed. Amazingly, the baby was found - alive - an incredible survival story that will be shared for years to come.

There are a few things I have learned about storms. For one - they are extremely unpredictable. Storms rise up suddenly and unexpectedly, many without any warning at all. Even the greatest weather men and the most technical of equipment can be wrong in forecasting storms and what they may leave behind. Storms are inevitable. They WILL happen. We WILL experience them. There’s nothing we can do to stop them and they are totally out of our control. And storms are impartial. The rains don’t pick and choose who they will pour down upon. The winds are not partial as to whom they will blow against. The storms rage against the bad and the good, the believer and the unbeliever, the rich and the poor alike.

We have a choice as to how we will respond when faced with the raging winds and downpour of the storms. Will we choose to respond with panic, or with peace? Will we choose fear, or faith?

In Mark 4, the disciples chose panic and fear when the waves rose against them - even though Jesus was with them in the boat. These guys were not novices when it came to the sea. They had been through many storms I’m sure, but this one must have been more intense, for they were extremely afraid. They were most likely yelling at the top of their lungs, “We’re gonna die!” The disciples portrayed our typical reaction when we are faced with the storms of life - panic and fear. But in comparison - Jesus, after a full day of teaching, was exhausted and laid down for a nap. The scripture says Jesus lay asleep upon a cushion despite the furious squalls and the waves crashing against the boat, rocking them to and fro. Sleeping in the midst of a storm? Wow, I call that peace! Jesus was not worried about the storm. He displayed complete faith that things were going to be alright! And if Jesus is all-knowing, then we can boldly say that Jesus knew the storm was coming even before he got in the boat.

In the middle of our storm, we tend to lay awake at night and toss and turn in bed - thoughts reeling in our minds. We try to analyze and figure it all out on our own - worrying about how it all will end. Resting in God’s hands in the midst of our storm is a true statement of faith. It’s like saying, “Lord, this problem is beyond me. It’s totally out of my control. I don’t know how you are going to work this out, but I am trusting you. So I’m going to bed now.”

The disciples had just witnessed the miracles of Jesus first-hand. They should have known that with Jesus in the boat, there was no need to be afraid. They had someone with them who was very capable of handling the situation. But fear comes when we experience things beyond our control and it’s easy to forget that the those unpredictable, inevitable, impartial storms may take US by surprise, but they don’t fool GOD. Nothing catches Him off guard! I am convinced that Jesus knew they were going to encounter a storm, but yet He says, “Get in! We’re going to the other side!” He didn’t say it would be an uneventful trip. He didn’t say they wouldn’t get wet. But the one thing He promised was that they were going to the other side - they were going to make it. The greatest threat to the disciples was not the storm - it was their unbelief.

Do you feel like the waves are taking you under and you’re not going to make it? What waves are crashing against your boat today? Jesus wants to calm the storm in your life. He wants to speak, “Peace, be still”, in the midst of your situation regardless of it’s intensity. No wave is too big for Him to calm. Choose peace instead of panic. Grab hold of faith rather than fear. And trust in the One who asks you to get into the boat and promises to take you to the other side. Then, share your survival story for years to come.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Dry Bones"

If ever there was a time that we need a breakthrough, the time is now. If ever there was a time that we need an answer from the Lord, the time is upon us. Cries to the Lord seem to go unheard and one thing after another seem to go wrong. All that is left is dry bones in a wasteland - the very life sucked out of what once had purpose and meaning. These bones are desperate for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit - desperate to rise and fall with precious breath once again. These bones lay helpless, yearning for hope to be restored.

God, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, placed Ezekiel in the midst of a valley full of nothing but dry bones. And God asks, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel surveys the scene. It looks pretty grim, for all that is left is dry bones. There’s no blood, no flesh, no life to even speak of. There is no way humanly possible that could raise these bones back to the land of the living. From man’s perspective - life here is impossible. It is absurd to even think that these dry bones could ever live again. But Ezekiel does not answer what seems to be the obvious. Instead he places the decision back into the capable hands of the very One who asked. “O Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”

So the Lord tells Ezekiel to preach to the bones! Say to those bones, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

So Ezekiel did as the Lord commanded. As he spoke, there was a rattling sound and the bones began to shake. And I can picture it now - those dead, dry bones raising up to connect with one another. First the feet and ankles connecting to the leg bones, adding themselves to the ribs. Then the arms and hands becoming restored to the body as the spine and skull take their place to form the complete skeleton. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments appear upon the dry frame and quickly are covered by skin. But still, the greatest component to life was missing. Oh, the bodies looked alive, but they were still dead, as no breath was found in them.

And God commanded Ezekiel to call upon the four winds, that breath may come and breathe life back into that which was slain - to restore hope into that which was hopeless. By the Spirit of the Lord, the breath of life entered what was once a lifeless, hopeless valley of dry bones.

We all have encountered situations that seem utterly hopeless. God alone holds the answer. He is the only One who can restore that which seems lost. That which seems to be impossible to resurrect, is always possible when placed in the hands of God. There are really no hopeless situations - only people who have grown hopeless within hard times.

What are the dried up bones in your life? What circumstances are you experiencing where you need to call upon the Lord to breathe life back into that which seems dead? It’s difficult to imagine those dead, dry bones ever having life again. It’s hard to imagine your situation ever getting better. It’s hard to imagine life beyond your present circumstances. God is promising to raise you up from that grave and restore you to life once again. Will you claim that promise today? Surrender to Him, for it’s only by His power that life can be restored to your dry bones.

The Word of God raises us up and the Spirit of God gives us life. We may be helpless, but never hopeless.

“Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:13-14

Saturday, April 2, 2011

“This is All for You!”

If you’re like me, you may have decided to try out the new TV show “Mobbed”, hosted and created by Howie Mandel. It’s one of those television shows that peek your curiosity every time a preview comes on. You await the time the very first episode airs so you can finally establish once and for all if it’s going to be a program worth your time, or prove to be a waste of time.

If you’re not familiar with the show, allow me to give you a little background. This cross between reality television and hidden camera phenomenon bring together a large quantity of complete strangers to form a ‘flash mob’ in an effort to surprise an unknowing participant during the reveal of a monumental secret. The program documents the preparations taken to pull off such an enormous task and ushers you through the intense moments of anticipation right up to the reaction of the one who is unsuspecting.

In the most recent episode, a man contacted “Mobbed” with the intent of being chosen to propose to his girlfriend using this ‘flash mob’ technique. Obviously in love, he wanted to show her once and for all that she is the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with. He wants to prove to her just how much he loves her, and to make her feel wanted, special, and significant. What better way to ask one to marry you than to declare your love in front of a multitude of people - singing to you and dancing to the song “Everlasting Love”. Clapping for you and cheering you on while escorted across town upon red carpets that have been rolled out to signify your ‘celebrity’ status.

Here's a little peek at what transpired. (You will want to mute the music player at the bottom of the page to view.)

Tears ran down my cheeks as I witnessed this stranger’s reaction - bending over in amazement, cupping her hand over her mouth in bewilderment, her own joyful, but uncontrollable tears causing mascara to smear around her eyes. The participating crowd, totaling over 1,000 people, proved to be a truly magnificent surprise, but not as wonderful as the moment that he came into view. She simply ‘lit up’ as the dancers and the members of the band turned to make room for the man she loved - all dressed up in a tuxedo and walking toward her with a smile upon his face. I will never forget his words, “This is all for you! I did this all for you!” And we all know what happened next - he popped the question and she said yes. Her friends and family appeared and before they knew it, they placed rings upon one another’s fingers and were pronounced husband and wife!

I couldn’t help but have a sense of jealousy churn within me. I thought to myself - Wow, it must be an incredible feeling to have someone love you so much that they would go to such trouble to let you know - to make you feel wanted, to make you feel special, to make you feel significant.

That’s when God gave me a vision. He placed in my mind a picture of a beautiful sunset over sparkling waters and then a breathtaking snow-capped mountain range. Then just like a whisper in my ear, He said, “This is all for you!” From there, I was taken to another image in my mind. This time, it was a picture of the cross - Jesus hanging there upon it, taking in His final breath. And again, He whispered to me, “I did this all for you!”

I was suddenly whisked away from a feeling of unimportance to a place of real acceptance. God so gently reminded me that He loves me with an “Everlasting Love”, that I AM wanted, and that I AM special, and that I AM significant! He gave me the beauty of the landscapes, the stars in the skies, the sun and the moon, the flowers, the precious hidden treasures of His creation - and He did it all for me! But most of all He sent His own precious Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty of my sin so I might live - He did it all for me! And He did it all for you!

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:6-8)

And the bride’s face ‘lit up’ as the bridegroom came into view. With a smile upon his face he whispered, “This is all for you! I did this all for you!”