Friday, November 12, 2010

Walking on Water

My youngest son, John has a voracious appetite for the stories from the Bible. We are currently reading the Children's Bedtime Story Bible which has short stories followed by questions. Last night, we had a great chat after we read about Peter walking on the water.

Here's a quick review of the story from Matthew 14. The disciples spent the night out on the lake and shortly before dawn, they saw Jesus walking on the lake toward them. When the disciples saw him, they were terrified because they thought he was a ghost. (My son thought it was cool that they were afraid of ghosts.) Jesus addressed their fears and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” After a brief conversation, Peter climbed out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. "But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Our children's story book asked the question, "Why was Peter afraid?" John thought about it for a minute and said "Because he was sinking."

"Sinking is a good reason to be afraid," I agreed. "But Peter was afraid before he started sinking," I reminded him. "Peter was afraid because when he saw the big waves, he doubted that Jesus would be able to help him with such big waves. Isn't that silly, Jesus was walking on water and helped Peter to walk on water, too. But Peter was distracted by the waves even while he was in the midst of the miracle of walking on water."

After we finished our story time, I kissed John good night all the while pondering the lesson of this story. I am living in the midst of a miracle. God has saved me, healed me and provided for me in so many amazing ways yet sometimes I get distracted by the waves, I start thinking that it is by my ability that I am walking on the water (or doing whatever) and since I can't handle the waves; I doubt that Jesus can help me, that He will intervene on my behalf, that He has power and dominion over all the challenges in my life. Why would I limit God and His ability to what I can do, control or understand? Silly Thoughts!

As Jesus said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 The God who created this universe can speak to the waves to be still. He who can change the course of a river can change the heart of any man. He who knit me together in my mother's womb can strenghten and heal my body. He who created my heart and mind can know me and love me with amazing lovingkindness.

Can you think of times when doubt has limited your view of God and distracted you from believing that with God all things are possible? How has God reached out his hand in times of doubt to lift you up out of the waves surrounding you? Thanks for sharing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Little Girl's Mercy Seat

Lauren, my five year old, petite, blue eyed, platinum blond niece has perfectionist tendencies. She makes her bed every day, always colors in the lines and prefers to be neat in all situations. Yet in spite of her near five year old perfection, she is not perfect, any more than I am in my middle age, L'oreal blond hair and messy house. Only Christ is perfect. My sister Christy recently taught Lauren of the wonder of Christ's love and mercy in spite of our sinfulness. Thanks to Christy for letting me share this story and to my mom, Sandy Brown for writing it down.

The Mercy Seat by SandyBrown
After school, Christy and her girls are in the habit of having snacks and watching television. They sit down on the couch in their beautiful living room and enjoy the short break before doing homework.

A typical afternoon changed in a flash when Lauren spilled all of her chocolate milk on their beige colored couch. “Oh, No!” Both daughter and mother started to cry because of the spill. The little one was crying because she hates to do things wrong and Christy was crying because she felt partly responsible for forgetting to put a top on the cup and because she had to clean the cushions quickly so they wouldn't stain.

As Christy was cleaning up the mess, she started talking to her little one to help her relax. She told Lauren that she knew how she was feeling and she knew that her daughter did not want to have an accident. She assured her that Mommy forgives her. But Lauren was still having a hard time and it was obvious to Christy that Lauren had not forgiven herself.

In church and on her favorite Christian show, Christy had learned about about God's Mercy. So this was an opportunity for her to put this lesson into practice.

Lesson time. In the midst of the cleanup, Christy took the time to tell Lauren about Jesus Christ, who shed his blood on the cross so that her sins would be forgiven once and for all. “We don't deserve to be forgiven but God worked it out for us,” she said.

She continued with the lesson by saying, “You are going to have to sit on the Mercy Seat.”

She went to the garage and brought in a chair. It was an old chair that had gathered dust and cobwebs. She brought it inside and put a red blanket on it. She explained that this chair is like each of us with all of our sins, spilled milk, and yuck. As she put a red blanket on the chair, she explained that God has put the red blood of Jesus, like a blanket over us and said to us, “I forgive you.” So now you can sit on God's Mercy Seat and feel His forgiveness.

Her daughter climbed on the chair and immediately her face brightened. A smile and a twinkle came over her face that was tear-soaked earlier. She asked if the Seat in Heaven was able to rock, move or swivel. “Perhaps,” Christy replied.

Once Lauren had calmed down and was ready to get off the chair, Christy asked her daughter to forgive her for not putting the top on the cup. Seriously thinking about it, Lauren started to understand that her mother needed forgiveness, too and so she repeated after her mother, “I forgive you.”

Christy hugged her and later pointed out how nice it was to have a cleaner cushion and couch.

Titus 3:4-6 (New International Version)
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Limited Resources= Bigger God

Judges used to be one of my favorite books in the Bible, I loved the drama of Samson, the leadership of Deborah and the honesty of Gideon. However, I recently re-read Judges and all I can say is that my new description of the book is that it is a bunch of stories of "men behaving badly." As I recently re-read it while attempting to "Read the Bible in 90 days," I felt as if I was reading the transcript of a sensationalist evening news program.

Even though I found much of Judges very disturbing, I prayed "God show me what you want me to get out of this, how can I apply these passages in my life." I felt drawn to a passage from Judges about Gideon. In Judges Chapter 6, God called Gideon to be a leader of the Israelite people against the Midianites. For seven years, the Midianites had made living off robbing and pillaging the Israelite crops, kind of like the Grasshoppers who terrorized the ants in the movie, "A Bug's Life." In fact, the Midianites are described as locusts in this chapter. It was a miserable, heart-breaking situation for the Israelite people (which they justly deserved because of the previously mentioned "men behaving badly behavior") but God in His mercy raised up Gideon to lead the people of Israel to fight against the Midianites.

After destroying a couple of idols, Gideon called the fighting men of Israel to assemble by spring that was south of the Midianite camp. Judges 7:2,3 records what happened next, "The LORD said to Gideon, 'You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained." After this first cut, God then winnowed the men again and Gideon was left with only 300 soldiers. In a miraculous turn of events, Gideon and the 300 men routed the Midianites and enjoyed peace for 40 years.

I must confess, I have loved the story of Gideon since I was a young girl. I've been drawn to the contrast of his bravery in pulling down the idol of Baal and his fear of fighting the Midianites. I appreciate his honest discussions with God and God's patience as Gideon puts out not one but two fleece to be certain that God would save Israel through Gideon. Plus I love the happy ending- peace for 40 years.

Yet as I was reading about Gideon most recently, I was struck by why God told Gideon to send home the first group of soldiers, God said, "In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her.." By limiting the Israelites' military resources to such a small number, there would be no doubt that the Lord had given the victory.

Just as God invited Gideon to join in His defeat of Midian, God allows us to experience the miraculous in our lives. However, to make sure we see the miracle, sometimes He brings us to the point of having no resources of our own, such as only 300 fighting men or $3.00 in the bank, to make sure we get the point. It is He who gives victory, He who heals, He who provides. Sure we have to be faithful and do what God has told us to do, whether it is fight, take up our mat and walk, or simply trust Him but there is no doubt that it is He that blesses us, provides for us, heals us and gives us the victory.

In Gideon's situation, God limited their resources so they would know that it was God who gave the victory and give Him the glory. He called them to a situation that was far outside of their abilities so they would see His divine intervention. My childhood was a time of limited resources. In the midst of such hard times, I saw Jesus provide in such miraculous ways. He put gas in our gas tank, Easter baskets on our front door and bread in our cupboards. He provided a college scholarship when I was at my lowest point academically.

If you are in a place of limited resources- not enough money, not enough time, not enough work- pray for God to show you His victory. He gives beauty for ashes and replaces the darkness of mourning with His translucent joy. He can turn this time of inadequacy into a time of rejoicing and victory.

Friends- let me know your thoughts. Have you seen God's hand in times of scarce resources more clearly? How do you boast in the Lord? How do you share evidence of God's blessing in times of abundance and scarcity? Thanks for sharing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Work to Do.. How Fun!

John 5:6-8 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

My friend Corinne sent out her thoughts on John 5:6-8 that really got me thinking.
Here's what she wrote on what stood out to her:
* The man had been lying there for a long time (vs. 5 tells us 38 years, to be exact!). Jesus asked him a question that seems a bit strange - "Do you want to be healed?" Well, DUH! He'd been laying there for 38 years!
* The man had an excuse for why he was still laying there.
* Jesus told the man to "get up, take up your bed, and walk"

Jesus has the power, we have to take the action! Do I want to be healed? (healthy, faithful, disciplined, filled with the fruit of the Spirit?) I can't passively wait for it to just happen! I have to take action - get up, take up my bed, and walk. In order for the fullness of life that God longs to be appropriated in my life, I must take action and DO what the Lord tells me to do. It's not enough to know that the Lord wants me to be whole, healthy, fully alive, purposeful, etc. If I know all that and just lay there, I am as good as paralyzed!

I really like Corinne’s perspective on this- Jesus has the power – He is the one who heals, restores, redeems and provides, yet to access his power we have to take action. Imagine, if you came over to my house one night and there was not a single light on in my house. You would probably wonder why I was sitting in the dark. You would say, “Penny, why is it so dark in here?” I would say “I just haven’t turned on the lights; I’ll do it now.” With a flip of a switch, we would no longer be sitting in darkness. My part in getting the lights turned on was so small. The power bill had been paid, the lines from the street to my house were in place, the lights had been wired and installed, and I just had to flip the switch.

When the Israelites and Joshua were preparing to enter Canaan, God told them that the land was theirs all they had to do was take it. God told them they would be entering a land with houses they did not build and crops they did not plant. Their job was to flip the switch- remove the inhabitants from the land. God even told the people of Israel that he would fight for them and drive them from the land. Victory was guaranteed and then they would be able to take advantage of the blessings that God had planned for them.

The Israelites’ victories against the Canaanites did not come from their own strength. Just because the man at the pool in John Chapter 5 had to pick up his bed and walk doesn’t make me think that he healed himself. It is obvious that God did the healing and God provided the victory.

What is so obvious in other people’s lives and in the Bible, I often miss in my own life. As a high school student, I would think that my good grades were the result of my hard work. As a marketing manager, I would attribute my success to my intelligence and work ethic. As a mom, I think that my clean house and happy family can be attributed to my efforts at home. In all of these situations and so many more, I am focused on what I have done- my small contributions- versus acknowledging all that God has done.

In high school, it was because of God’s gift of intelligence, His provision of a teacher in first grade who taught me how to read, His financial provision for my family so that I had time to study and I didn’t have to work full time, His hand on my parents lives so that lived in a community with good schools, and His timing that I was born in the 20th century and not 1,000 years ago. The list of all that God accomplished and provided for me, long before I opened my first textbook, shows that my efforts, while important, are nothing in comparison to God’s work on my behalf.

God’s provision and timing are evident in my career and my being at home. Throughout my career, God opened up doors and provided jobs in miraculous ways. God orchestrated my classes in college and grad school so that much of what I learned applied to my future jobs. God gave me a personality that loved marketing and God provided life experiences so that I could relate to the products I was responsible for marketing. Yes, I did send out resumes and I did show up for work everyday but as anyone who has tried to find a job can tell you, just because you send out resumes does not mean that you will get a job. Just because you have a job (or kids) does not mean that you will love it, because even being able to love is a gift from God. When I "retired" to be at home full-time, God provided for us finacially, God brought new friends into my life, and God gave me health to enjoy this time.

In the Bible study, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes that “God invites us to join him in his work.” How amazing- the God of this Universe, Creator of vast galaxies and microscopic organisms – wants me to join Him in His work. I am amazed that God would trust me with His plans and that He wants me to help him- not because He can’t do it himself –but because I am made in His image and He knows what will bring me joy and wants to bless me.

Your story of God's provision may be very different than mine. Your life experiences and challenges make how you "take up your mat and walk" every day, are unique to you. Yes, we do have our part to do. Some days it feels like we have to we have to pick up our mat, flip the switch, and drive out the inhabitants from the land before noon. At times, these tasks seem so big and daunting. During these times that are so difficult and stretch your faith, look to see all the preparation that God has done for you, so that you can shift your perspective off all that you have to do and instead you can see all that God has done for you.

It’s like when I invite my boys to help me make cookies; I read the recipe, buy the ingredients, heat up my stove, measure everything, and at the end, they pour in the chocolate chips. They have a small part of the whole process- but what joy it brings to them and me. They get to experience creation, eat lots of chocolate chips and enjoy homemade cookies. I get to spend time with two boys that I love, I get to teach them how to cook and we have fun. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” How fun.