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obedience

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

In Trouble? Ask for a Command

November 1, 2016

 

 

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

“Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

  • Matthew 14

 

When you’re in a hard place, what do you pray? When you’re struggling with all your might to make progress but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, where is your focus? Is your focus on getting out of the situation, getting to your goal and being done with it? If so you may be missing an amazing encounter with God that you won’t be able to have anywhere else.

Plenty has been written and preached about the story of Peter walking on water. It’s a story that resonates with us because we so greatly long to experience Jesus in ways that shape our life forever. But there’s one point I don’t think I’ve heard drawn from this story before, and I believe it is a significant one. To state it succinctly, when you want to experience more of God ask for a command and then obey.

Let’s set the scene. The disciples are on the lake struggling to make forward progress. They see a ghost on the water. A ghost that has Jesus’ voice and tells them to not be afraid. Peter, being the smart guy he is, wants proof that it’s Jesus. He wants an experience that will prove to him that Jesus is with them. Peter could have asked for anything. He could have asked for Jesus to come closer and get in the boat with them or to be taken out of the struggle and transported to the other side of the lake (which does happen in another similar story), or maybe to have Jesus miraculously produce them a midnight snack. Instead of any of those things he says to Jesus, “command me to come to you on the water.” Peter asks Jesus to command him to do something.

When was the last time you asked God to give you a command when you were in a difficult place and wanted to know he was near? Heck, when was the last time you asked God to command you anything? There are already plenty of commands and we have no need of additional ones, thank you.

We seem to have this idea that the way God proves his nearness is by removing us from struggle and making things easier, but if Peter’s experience here is any guide that very well may not be the case.

Jesus willingly responds to Peter’s request, saying simply, “Come!” and Peter obeys. He gets his proof. He stands on top of a lake and steps forward. He walks in Jesus’ footsteps and lives a miracle for a few moments. Then he sinks. But is that a bad thing? In that moment of sinking is when Jesus comes closest, grabbing his disciple and pulling him out of the water where he’d stepped at his master’s command.

Friends, if you want to encounter God in a fresh way do what Peter did; ask for a command. When you receive it take a risk and step out in obedience. Like Peter you’ll get to experience the awe and wonder of what our God does when we follow him in faith. The best part is that you can’t fail! If you step out, stumble, and fall Jesus will be there to grab you before you hit the ground.

Next time you’re in a place of difficulty or struggling to make forward progress, don’t pray for God to take you out of the situation. Instead ask him to tell you what to do in the situation. Obey. Odds are that when you do you’ll be walking closer to Jesus than you would in another other situation.

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Expectations and Miracles

February 29, 2016

 

 

A week or two ago at Salem, Kelly and I’s home church here in Fargo, Pastor Glenn preached a powerful sermon from 2 Kings 5:1-14 – the story of Naaman’s healing from leprosy. You can watch or listen to the sermon here. I wanted to delve further into one of the points that Glen made during his sermon and apply it to our day-to-day relationship with God.

To set the scene, Naaman, a powerful, influential, and strong commander of the Syrian army discovers he has leprosy. He’s on the road to ostracism, slow and painful decay, and ultimately and inevitably death. Leprosy, in his day, has no cure and is highly contagious. No cure, that is, except for the miraculous healing that the God of Israel is able to do, as Naaman’s wife’s Israelite servant girl points out. Naaman heads to Israel with gifts from the Syrian king to demand that he be healed, ultimately meeting with a messenger from Elisha who tells him to go and wash in the Jordan river. Here’s the point in the story that I want us to zoom in on. It’s incredibly applicable to us today. In 2 Kings 5 we read,

And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (5:10-12)

Naaman needs healing. He needs God’s intervention or he’ll die. But there’s a problem. Naaman has expectations of how God should do his intervening. If God’s actions don’t fit in Naaman’s box, he’s going to walk on, leprosy or not. God, however, wants to directly address Naaman’s issues and use his leprosy as a magnifying glass to reveal errors in his thinking. There are at least two issues that Naaman has with God’s method of healing as outlined by Elisha’s servant;

Issue 1: The person bringing the gift

Naaman is someone in a high position. He’s the commander of the army of one of the world’s superpowers. He’s expecting the top dog, Elisha himself, to come and speak to him face to face. Elisha, however, insults Naaman by sending a servant in his place, and Naaman doesn’t like the person bringing the gift. He doesn’t want to receive his healing from some second-rate servant. He wants it from the prophet himself. None of this second-hand crap.

How often we operate this way! We judge the quality of the gift based on the person who’s bringing it. We set our expectations for the quality of a sermon based on the appearance of the preacher. We expect the greatest financial support from those who are well dressed and clean cut. God, however, tends to use the most unlikely of candidates to do the greatest of things. He sends his greatest gifts through the most unexpected of sources.

Don’t prevent yourself from receiving a gift from God because you’ve discounted the person who is bringing it.

Issue 2: The method

Naaman wanted some show – some special treatment. He expected God’s healing to align with what he’d seen Syrian priests and magicians do. God, however, wants to knock down Naaman’s barriers. Wash in dirty water and be clean, Naaman. This isn’t going to be a magic show or the result of some mystical incantation.

We, like Naaman, have our expectations set for what God’s methods should be when he answers our prayers or fulfills our needs. The financial provision should come as a surprise generous gift from an anonymous donor rather than an extra side job. The beautiful romance that leads to a lasting marriage should come before we’re X years old. The healing or deliverance should be the product of one powerful explosion of the Spirit’s power rather than months or years of slow growth and restoration work.

Set aside your expectations for God’s methods. Jesus never heals the same thing the same way twice. Our God loves to do new and unexpected things. Open your eyes and be on the lookout for God’s miraculous intervention in the places where you previously least expected it.

Thankfully for Naaman his servants prevail upon him and he obeys, dipping himself in the Jordan river. He sets aside his expectations, obeys, and receiving the healing that he needed.

We serve a God who is more than able to meet every one of our needs – from miraculous bodily healing to spiritual freedom to financial and relational provision. He’s not only able, he is willing and eager to do so, as Jesus demonstrates when he responds to the beggar’s statement “If you are willing, Lord…” with the declaration, “I am willing. Be healed.” (Matthew 8:1-3)

The real question is whether or not we’re willing to receive what God is giving. Are we ready to set aside our expectations and receive God’s gift regardless of the deliverer or the method of delivery?

I certainly hope we are. Like Naaman we each are desperately in need of a miracle. Let’s be willing to receive, regardless of how our good God gives.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship

Faith and Brutal Facts

May 27, 2015

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Luke 5:1-7

 

I want to be a man of great faith – someone who goes beyond living in that quickly dying “cultural christianity” and walks a kind of life that would fit in the middle of the book of Acts or alongside Jesus as one of his disciples.

In his seminal business leadership book Good to Great, Jim Collins delves into six key factors that help organizations shift from average to great. The pivot point of the move from good to great sits on the action that he calls “confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith)”. I believe this is a critical part to growing a true and great faith. We see it at work at the outset of Simon’s interaction with Jesus in this passage in Luke 5. This scene is the seed of what grows into a powerful faith that leads Peter into leadership among both the disciples and the entirety of the early church.

We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything

Regardless of what modern skeptics crow, the Christian faith is no blind faith. In the midst of pain and difficulty it acknowledges the hard truths and brutal facts. It is not unaware of the harshness of reality. It is Simon, answering Jesus’ command to cast the nets out again with the reality-acknowledging “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”

The man of faith doesn’t float through life in a glistening cloud of comfort and fairy dust. Quite the opposite. Scan the scriptures and the history of Christ’s people throughout the millennia; those who follow him most closely confront most frequently the harsh and often violent sting of reality. Bear witness the Apostle Paul’s scarred back and oft-broken bones, Hudson Taylor’s loss of child after child and the loss of his wife during his time in China, Stephen’s stoning, thousands of Christians thrown to lions in the Roman empire, dozens of Christians executed by ISIS, and countless more. The man of faith knows well how to confront the brutal facts, however, he never stops there.

But because you say so

Instead, faith goes through the brutal facts to the transcendent truth that the God who spoke the earth into existence still speaks. His word overrides any appearance of something contrary to his word. God’s – Jesus’ – word creates the reality that it declares and gives what it commands. His authority overrides reality because his word is what creates reality. When he speaks to Simon and tells him to let down the nets on the other side of the boat, it is “because you say so” that Simon obeys. It’s not a blind step to obey someone who has all authority.

Faith faces the brutal facts and embraces them, knowing that if the Father, Spirit, and Son have given word then no manner of facts can stand in the way.

I will let down the nets

Has God declared a truth about you that your situation makes seem impossible? Has God declared truth about your future that the current reality makes almost nonsensical? Acknowledge that. Face it. List those brutal facts, but don’t stop there. Side by side with them list the character, power, and provenness of your King. Let the authority of Christ be the bridge across your river of impossibility.

When Jesus calls, let down your nets, even though your years of experience and common sense says nothing will be there to catch. How different would Simon’s life have been if he had kept his nets in the boat that morning? His submission to Christ’s authority – his faith – was a step through a doorway into a life that would radically impact the trajectory of the entire world and shape him into a rock for the foundation of the early church.

Jesus has the same call for you today, in tiny things that don’t seem to be important and in great things that don’t seem to make sense. Jim Collins tapped into a key truth in Good to Great. Confront the facts and don’t lose faith. Doing so will lead you into encounters with Jesus that carry you into spiritual depths that you have yet to delve.

It doesn’t matter what reality says. When Jesus calls, let down the nets my friends. Pretty soon you’re going to be calling others in to help you celebrate and carry all that He will bless you with.