Does God Care?

Relationships, health, career, parenting…life can be FULL of fears. When we least expect it, confidence can get mushy as the clouds gather. So it was with the disciples in Mark 4. Remember the story…
35On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.”  36Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.  37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  38But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”  39Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  40But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”  41And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”Mark 4:35-41 (NKJV)

Jesus asked two important questions: 

  • “Why are you so fearful?”
  • “How is it that you have no faith?”

Of course, the massive storm beating down comes to mind as having a little something to do with the fear, but Jesus was looking deeper. He was using an incredible teaching moment to grow their faith. Observe the focuses revealed in their question.

I. “We are perishing” (v.38)

We jump to conclusions. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe somebody with a lot of letters behind their name, round glasses and a German accent could tell us, but the truth is…we do. Our focus becomes fixed on the end, and usually the worst case scenario. They were confident of doom, and having Jesus in the boat obviously didn’t change that.

Jesus asked, “Why are you so fearful?” There are two thoughts I know would tempt me:

  •  The size of the storm (the problem is inescapable)
  • Uniqueness of the storm (no one else has ever faced this)

Unfortunately, with my focus on the conclusions, I can’t see the calm Jesus…relaxed and sleeping. Maybe a look over in His direction would give me the confidence I need and encourage my spirit. Next is the second focus we observe.

II. “Do you not care?” (v.38)

Why do we perceive God that way? When life presses in, it can seem as if God doesn’t care. Maybe at some point you’ve thought one of these (you fill in the blank): 

  • “He cares more for ___________ than me”
  • “My circumstances aren’t as important to Him as ___________”
  • “I know He’s able, but _____________”

The disciples knew exactly where Jesus was, and that He’d initiated the journey “Let us cross over to the other side.” (v.35), but their focus was on what He was not doing, not His calm confidence. 

“Peace, be still!” what great words to hear in the midst of a storm. He still speaks, and still cares. 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 says:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – NKJV

Take special note of those words in the middle of the quote, “God is faithful”. I don’t know what you may be going through today, but God does. Focus on Him. The storm may be big, dark, and loud, but when He speaks…it changes everything! 

Series – “The Questions of Jesus” – Lesson IV

Who’s the Real Deal?

Years ago, there was a Christian comedian with a very dramatic testimony of being delivered from Satanism. He was funny, told incredible stories, and I was a fan. Unfortunately, one day the truth came out how he’d fabricated most of his story, and quickly fell from the spotlight. Yeah…you’ve probably known similar stories of less than truthful showmen. So how do we know? How do we know who’s for real?

Well, obviously the Lord is the only one who knows hearts, but the Bible gives great instruction concerning authenticity. Let’s consider:

15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Therefore by their fruits you will know them. – Matthew 7:15-20 ( NKJV )

I. Be Careful

  • There ARE false prophets out there. Not only was it true then, but now too. Don’t be eager to lay your Bible aside for someone’s books or podcasts. Our devotion should be to Christ, not a fellow servant.
  • God’s view is clear. I Samuel 16:7 says He looks at the heart and not outward appearance. The inward part is the motivation, and should reflect a changed life by the power of Christ’s redemptive work (the fruit of their life will tell).

II. Be Observant

  • There’s no neutrality. Verses 17-18 say there will be fruit, either good or bad. What’s more, a tree can ultimately only bear after its kind. How much do you know about the people spiritually influencing you right now? Have you really watched their life, and listened close to their teachings?
  • What standard do we use? Galatians 5:22-25 is a great place to start, and Colossians chapter 3 helps us too, by describing an authentic follower of Christ “putting off” the old & “putting on” the new. Combined together, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians) and the new life in Christ (Colossians) paints the picture of a self-less person, interested in God’s value system, not the world’s.
  • Individuals AND ministries should both reflect the same values described in those passages. Ministries have personalities, and they should be selfless, just as the man of God should be.

III. Be Patient

  • Time will tell. Relax and let God be the one who validates people. Don’t let outward charisma (or lack of it) cloud your judgment. Pray for discernment and clear direction when choosing a leader or influencer in your spiritual journey. The Bible is our true measure, and a real person of God bases his/her teachings on it.
  • At the same time, we can’t worry about the ones spreading falsehoods. Yes we are to contend for the truth, but in the end God will take care of those peddling false teachings. Being cut down and thrown into the fire is powerful, but we aren’t the axe swingers. Look to Christ for how to respond through the Holy Spirit when dealing with such.

Personalities can be powerful, but never let them over-shadow the fruit!

Series – “The Questions of Jesus” – Lesson III

Ever Felt Judged?

Most of us have, and of course it’s not exactly a warm-fuzzy feeling. Worse yet, most of us have also been the one to judge others at some point. In Matthew 7, Jesus discusses judging. He directs us to the subject, then asks, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Yep, the old speck & plank, but the great news…Jesus also gives us instructions on how to avoid the plank (and the soreness that goes with it).

Let’s take a look:

1. “Judge not, that you be not judged2. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5. Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  6. “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. 7. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10. Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11.  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12. Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.      – Matthew 7:1-12 NKJV

Before we look at the positive action steps, let’s list the three “don’t” items.

  • Don’t judge v.1
  • Don’t be a hypocrite v.5
  • Don’t waste treasures v.6

Next, what’s the key verse in this passage? Well, anytime I see a “therefore” it’s usually a good clue – and verse 12 is our key, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Verse 12 speaks of motive. It ties verses 1-11 all together, revealing a process of verses 7-11 actually facilitating avoidance of 1-6.

A. Don’t Judge

Process Part 1: Asking and receiving – if I ask the Lord for the right view of circumstances then I’ll receive clarity concerning myself and others. In light of Verse 1, I must be concerned with how I’ll ultimately be judged by Christ in following Him, and others view (or judgment) of me. You may say, “It’s not fair for others to judge me.” It’s not, but life isn’t fair, so get over it, they do. My responsibility is to be authentic when they do.

B. Don’t be a Hypocrite

Process Part 2: Seeking and finding – Seek out the precious truths of scripture and how they apply. When I begin to find the depth of what the Bible says about living life as a believer then I’m no longer content with the shallowness of immaturity. At that point, God-led introspection comes and life begins to take on a sense of maturity. Conversely, I don’t want to be hung up on introspection, becoming spiritually paralyzed. Keep moving. When the Lord reveals things, act on it. Remember, the point of verse 5 isn’t to cease “looking” at others, but to see “clearly” when doing so.

C. Don’t Waste Treasure

Process Part 3: Knocking and Opening – Proverbs 9:7-8 says to be careful when giving out correction, because done incorrectly creates enemies. Often, timing and tone are everything when handling the precious treasure of God’s truth. Don’t cheapen the gospel to a verbal equivalent of “scripture candy” or operate without discernment by dropping “scriptural bombs” on people who simply need an authentic friend. When we knock for doors to be opened, the Lord provides wonderful opportunities. Spirit led conversation is far more successful than ill-timed self-led attempts.

So keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Over time, prayer enables discernment and discernment enables the right timing, and the right timing enables success!  

Series: The Questions of Jesus – Lesson II –  Matt. 7:1-12

“What do you seek?”

We all have questions. Even Jesus asked questions. As a matter of fact, He asked a lot of questions which are recorded in the gospels. The difference is purpose. He didn’t lack information, He was teaching. As the Master Teacher, His questions revealed much to the listener. If we listen, His questions still teach and challenge us. In John 1, we find this:

35“Again, the next day, John (the Baptizer) stood with two of his disciples. 36And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.”

 – John 1:35-38 NKJV

A. What did they seek?

Since these two men (John & Andrew) were already disciples of John the Baptizer, they were obviously interested in spiritual things. They desired time with Him, and since they declared Him to be the Messiah, they must have received enough information to confirm it.

Later, when John the Baptizer was arrested, Jesus finds them fishing. He calls them as disciples (Matt. 4) and the process begins. Throughout the gospels, the disciples dream of a glorious earthly kingdom, but Jesus came to do something far greater and more glorious. One-by-one those desires had to be set aside for what it means to “follow”. It involved a changing of their focus over time to see what the real purpose of His coming was.

B. So what do we seek? 

Peace? Healing? Comfort? Blessings? Forgiveness? The list is long of what we desire from a relationship with God. Thankfully, those things come, but what did Jesus say we should seek? Remember this, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). He says that as an antidote to worry (verses 25-32). At first it may seem odd, but consider what worry is: 

  • A focus on things we cannot change
  • A feeling coming from a lack of control
  • A desire for guarantees

C. What do you seek?

Are your prayers leaning toward the benefits of following Christ? Or are they kingdom focused? If you’re like me, they tend to slide over into the benefits more often than not, but kingdom focused prayer is just that-“kingdom focused”. It’s becoming aligned in prayer with God’s priorities, instead of mine.

Here’s a suggestion, pray about how-to-pray. That may sound ridiculous, but at times I ask the Lord to help me know what and how to pray. Hey, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, so that puts us in good company.

Finally – What the disciples sought and what they got were two different things. Yes, they received all of the benefits of being His inner circle, but the play-by-play was so different than anticipated. Trust is the key word, even when we don’t get the answers we want…“seek first His kingdom…and all these things shall be added to you”.

“The Questions of Jesus” – Lesson I

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