Monday, August 31, 2015

An Anchor in the Storm

I recently had the pleasure of teaching at a middle school camp. The teaching series for the week was called “I Am,” focusing on identity. I was given the topic “I Am Anchored.” I was pretty excited about the topic because I spent a summer working in the commercial fishing industry in Alaska, so being on and around boats is close to my heart, and every good boat needs an anchor.

 My teaching was focused on Matthew 8:23-27, where we find Jesus and his disciples out on the sea of Galilee when a fierce storm starts overtaking their boat. The disciples start to panic, and where is Jesus? Sleeping! Amidst all of this crazy weather, and waves crashing over the boat, Jesus is sound asleep as the boat pitches and rocks. The disciples wake Jesus, fearing for their lives, and Jesus calmly rebukes them for their lack of faith, and with another rebuke, calms the raging waters. How crazy is that? Even the disciples could not believe what had happened, stating, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (v. 27, NASB)

As I was reading through and studying this text, there were a few things that really surprised me. First, if you have read through the Gospels in the Bible, you find that Peter, James, and John, three of Jesus’ disciples, were all fishermen. That means they know the sea…it’s what they do, it’s what they lived. So for them to be so frightened by a storm that they thought they would die, it must have been some storm! Secondly, the amazement that the disciples must have felt as they went from fearing for their lives in one moment, to the waters being completely calm in the next.  They stood there, soaking wet wondering what in the world just happened! I can just imagine the disciples dripping water with their jaws dropped wondering how Jesus just did that!

 However, even with all of that, the two biggest things that struck me were Jesus’ reaction, and what it means for us today. In the midst of all of the chaos surrounding the disciples, Jesus rebuked them asking, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith.” (v. 26, NASB) He didn’t rebuke them because of the immense power he had, but he rebuked them because he was there with them. Almost to say, “Guys, why are you so scared, I’m here! I’m with you.” Jesus is saying, “If I’m with you, you’re going to be ok! You’re going to make it through!” And that’s where Jesus’ words jumped off the page, and jumped into my life experience. As I taught this lesson on being anchored in Jesus, it drew me to this point… 
The job of an anchor is not to remove a boat from a storm, but to hold it fast through a storm

And the same is true of Jesus. If we anchor our lives in Jesus, he promises to be with us through whatever happens, whatever situation arises, and whatever trials we face. He is not a genie or magician who will magically remove us from our trials, but rather, he holds us through our trials, and walks with us as we endure hard times. If you ask me, I couldn’t ask for a better anchor in the storm.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast... 
Hebrews 6:19 (NASB)

~Jake Houf

Monday, August 24, 2015

5 Reasons You Aren't Praying Regularly

If you are anything like me, praying regularly does not always come naturally. I’m up and down, I’m in and out. But I want to be a person of prayer. I believe it is important and I’ve seen God work amazingly in and around me through prayer.  So why do I struggle praying regularly?
Here are my top five obstacles to consistent meaningful prayer and a few ways to knock down those obstacles.

Prayer is confusing

Let’s face it; it’s hard to understand what is happening when we pray.  Are we changing things? What are we changing? -God’s mind? Can we even change God’s mind? Doesn’t He know what’s best anyways? These are all thoughts I’ve struggled with in the past, and to be honest I haven’t resolved all of these questions completely. But I’ve come to understand that prayer is critical for all followers of Jesus. First, we are told dozens of times in the Bible to pray, so there is a good reason right there. But there are many other reasons, some of them are listed below...

You don’t feel like it

One of the main factors dictating whether I pray or not is my emotional state. My spiritual temperature rides in the sidecar of how I am feeling. Am I together and self-confident? Then prayer gets forgotten. Am I discouraged or ashamed? –Then prayer is avoided. Some days I’m too busy. Some days I’m too self-focused. But you can tell a lot about where someone puts their confidence by their prayer life. I have found the times I don’t feel like praying are the times I need to pray the most. And often it turns out to be some of the most meaningful and effective prayer times in my life.

You don’t really believe anything will change

Maybe you’ve prayed for something in the past and the outcome you prayed for didn’t happen. Or maybe it just seems like you’re praying to the ceiling and no answers are coming. I’ve felt like this many times in my life. Then I started keeping a prayer-list book. It’s like a little black book, except mine is red.  In it I list prayer requests with details and the date I started praying for it. I try to be as specific with what I’m praying for as possible so I can track how God answers.  On the left side I list prayers with dates and on the right I list answers with dates.  All I can say is, I no longer struggle with believing anything will change. Since I started keeping this prayer-list books there have been many amazing answers to prayer. I literally have books full of answered prayer. I could show you cancers that have inexplicably disappeared, struggles turned to victories, broken things restored, and many, many more. Which brings me to reason number four.

You’ve forgotten what He’s done

I think one of the greatest tragedies of life might be forgetting the things we ought to never forget. Oh how intensely we pray for some situations…and how quickly we move on once they’re resolved. We are quick to ask, inconsistent with our gratitude, and seldom to remember. Keeping my prayer-list book produces hard, irrefutable evidence I can look to and remember what God has done. Someone has said, “the faintest ink is better than the strongest memory.” Some amazing things God has done I think I would never forget…and then I look back a year or two and I am astounded at what I’ve already forgotten. Remembering what he has done helps me pray regularly for what he will do.

You don’t plan for it

If you don’t set aside a specific time and place to pray, the likelihood that intentional meaningful prayer will happen is very low. The number one thing I can do to pray regularly and consistently is to plan a time and place to pray. Sure, I pray spontaneously throughout the day. But that prayer is usually driven by the circumstances I find myself in. We need space for intentional and meaningful pray time…and we almost always have to create that space. I wish it weren’t that way, but over time I’ve discovered it just is. Pick a time and place to pray tomorrow and the likelihood it will happen goes up many times.

I hope these ideas help you engage in a regular meaningful time of prayer with your Father in heaven.  Deep and rich moments await you if you do.

~Kirk Bierens

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Battle is the Lord's

Many of us are familiar with the David and Goliath story, but we may not be as familiar with the conversations that took place right before David headed out onto the battlefield before Goliath. 

David’s father sent him to the battle line to check on his older brothers.  While there he heard Goliath’s tauntings and he started asking the men in the army about what was happening.

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
1 Samuel 17:28-32

David did not let what his brother said or the burning anger of his brother towards him affect him. He didn’t engage in an argument or try to defend himself from the false accusations.

He turned away from the distraction of his brother's words and continued to seek out the information he needed to respond to God’s direction for him.

Because he stayed focused, he knew what God was calling him to do, and David went before the Philistine.  David stood before Goliath and proclaimed the beautiful truth:  “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s…”I Samuel 17:47

And God gave him victory that day. 

How many times do we get discouraged by other’s comments and stand down, step away, or disengage?  Or how often do we hear what others say and engage in an argument and our focus is on defending ourselves instead of focusing on what the real battle is?

The battle is not with our brother or our sister; the battle is with the enemy.  More importantly to remember is that we only need to be obedient and focused on what God is calling us to do, and leave the rest to Him, because the battle is the Lord’s!

This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's.  II Chronicles 20:15

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 
I Corinthians 15: 57-58

~ Sue Parrott

Monday, August 10, 2015

Do your prayers help you be more like Christ?

I am going to go to my favorite coffee house and when I arrive I have a choice to make.  I could approach the situation in at least two possible ways in prayer.  A first possibility is that I could pray, “God, I really want a dark roast coffee, please let the dark roast be ready.  I love dark roast so much that it is the only reason I believe you will lead me into the coffee house today.  I love you God, and I love dark roast.  Please, let there be dark roast.” 

A second possible prayer could be this: “Father, thank you for what you have given me.  I know that I will have many choices today, so please give me wisdom and discernment in those choices as I become more like Christ.  May my choices be ones that bring you honor in this way.” 

Now, what is the difference between the prayers? 

In the first example my desire for a specific thing is at the center.  I know what I want and I’m asking for it.  In the second my desire is to make wise choices as I become like Christ.  So whether or not I get dark roast does not matter.  What if the dark roast was brewed wrong that day and a better choice is to be made?  Or maybe the dark roast is the best choice.

It is okay to pray for specific things.  But sometimes we can miss the joy that awaits us.  God does want us to enjoy life, even in simple pleasures.  I believe that he has so many blessings for us each and every day down to the very kind of coffee we drink.  But how we approach the situations in our life reveals whether we are truly growing to be like Christ or merely fulfilling false or selfish motives.  There are many good things for us, but they are found in becoming more like Christ.  When we ask to be more like him we can be confident he will bring it to fruition.

Swap out the coffee illustration for the real life scenario you are going through.  You could either pray for what you want, or you could pray to become more like Christ as you walk through this journey.  Maybe there’s a bit of both mixed in if your desires are His desires.  But don’t lose the truth that God does care about your happiness.  God does want good things for you.  But more importantly and far more valuable, God cares about your holiness.  And that is found in becoming like Christ.  

Let us be among those who pray in a way that helps us grow in becoming like Christ. 

In your prayer today ask yourself who or what is at the center of your prayers?  What is your real motive?  Maybe you need to confess some things to God in prayer.  Find new ways to express your prayers that encourage your spiritual growth as you seek to become more like Christ.

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

~ Mark Deering III

Monday, August 3, 2015

What My God is Not

Are you someone who is gifted and disciplined at self reflection?  Someone who regularly takes the time to quiet the world around them and focus in on who they are at a deep, central level?  

If I am honest, I am not stellar at this.  In fact, I am quite terrible.  Why?  I hate it.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to think about me.  I do it all day, every day.  I like to live within a universe where everything and everyone revolves around me.  I like to think that my heart, my intellect, and my way of doing things are quite superior.  When I sit down and reflect on the selfish desires my heart innately pursues, how limited my knowledge really is, and how my way to put together that “E-Z to assemble” child’s toy fails, I have to admit all the things that I am not.

Now this might be where the world would try to validate me.  Some friends with deeply heartfelt intentions might say, “You’re still a good person.”  They would list horrible crimes that I have not committed, downplay the mistakes I have made and tell me that I am still “better than average.”

Here is just part of the problem.  First, they don’t know all of the things that I have thought or done because no human can ever know another person that deeply.  Therefore, they are only privileged to the filtered things I say and do.  Secondly, as much as I care for them, I know them too well to think they have the authority or ability to make these moral judgments for all humanity.  Third, is “better than most” supposed to be good enough?!

As much I as I really, really don’t like to be reminded of what I am on my own, this allows me to appreciate what I so desperately want and need.  Contrary to what many may believe, seeing myself as flawed is not depressing.  When my eyes are opened to who I am, only then am I able to see the beauty and depth of God’s love and grace for me and the desperate way I need him.

When I see what I am not, I see what my God is not.

I am not inherently selfless.  My God is not inherently selfish.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

I do not have the most brilliant mind.  My God is not limited by a human mind.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
1 Colossians 1:16

I am not the most beautiful.  My God is not flawed in anyway.
From Zion, in perfect beauty, God shines forth.
Psalm 50:2

I do not have a pure and blameless heart.  My God is not changed by the darkness he sees in my heart.
If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3:20

I LOVE that we have a God who sees what we are, what we are not and loves us immeasurably despite who he is and who he is not.

I pray that our eyes would be opened to who we are in relation to who you are.  I ask that we would never be so blind to our brokenness that we would miss what it is like to be reconciled to the beauty and purpose we are able to have in you.

~ Ashley Van Dam