Is God asleep?

Do you ever feel like God is absent? Like He’s ignoring your prayers and maybe even doesn’t care?

I’ve felt that way before, as have most Christians.

It’s almost funny to think about the disciples in the middle of this really bad storm. These storms could explode on this lake, and they were fierce enough to sink many boats. Several of the disciples were experienced sailors, so they knew a bad storm when they saw one.

And this was a bad one.

Imagine how it must’ve gone . . .

A couple of guys start wrestling with the sails. “Hey, has anyone seen Jesus?” “No, I saw Him earlier near the back of the boat.”

The boat starts taking on water. “He did get on the boat, right?” “Oh yeah, I know I saw Him.”

The wind howls and the boat rocks dangerously.

Several guys grab buckets and start bailing. “Where did He go? Did He fall overboard?”

“We’d better find Him.”

They drop their buckets and sprint to the back of the boat.

And that’s where they found Him, asleep on a cushion.

“Hey guys, you’re not gonna believe this. He’s here . . . but He’s asleep.”

How in the world could He sleep in the middle of all this chaos? Or perhaps, Why wasn’t He up here helping us?

I suppose they tempered what they really wanted to say and instead only accused Him mildly: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Read this short story and then reflect on its meaning for us:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).

If you’ve been walking with Jesus long, you know that you don’t always feel close to Him. Sometimes He may seem distant, or even asleep.

But I think this story helps us face those times, because His “sleepfulness” has an intended purpose.

Here are a few thoughts:

–        Jesus’ apparent inattention doesn’t mean disinterest. He promised that He’d always be with us.

–        His hands-off approach develops character in us as we face life’s challenges. A child whose parent shelters him from every possible harm does him a great disservice.

–        The Lord’s goal is for us all to come to this life-changing, course-altering, rock-solid conviction: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” What they were saying was, This Jesus is God, and that’s what our faith leads us to confess as well.

Are your storms blowing fiercely?

Are your prayers falling unanswered?

Does Jesus seem distant?

Please take courage. He’s there, fully engaged, intimately aware, and lovingly present.

Whatever is going on, He’s working through it with you to strengthen your conviction that He is truly the Lord who controls the winds and the seas . . . and the challenges you’re facing.

Have a great Friday!

In Christ,

A bumper crop

I’ve been around some pretty good farmers in my life, men and women who could feed half of America off a half-acre plot of ground.

I, on the other hand, have been known to spend quite a bit of money on farming equipment, seeds, and fertilizer, then work hours tilling and planting and fertilizing, and finally enjoy a bountiful crop of 3 shriveled tomatoes and a rotten cucumber. I’m not sure, but I think it would take a few more of my gardens to feed the other half of our country.

In Jesus’ day, farmers were pretty good at what they did, usually receiving about 7 or 8 times the seed sown, or maybe even 10 times if it was a great harvest.

But Jesus had a better plan for them. When He talked about farming, He described this kind of harvest: thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold.

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. . . . But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold (Mark 4:8, 20).

In other words, farmers were used to a 7:1 or 8:1 ratio on fruit produced per seed planted, but they would be thrilled with a 10:1 ratio. Jesus says when He farms, He gets anywhere from 30:1 to 60:1 to 100:1. He would get somewhere between 3 and 15 times greater than the normal harvest!

Of course He wasn’t talking about tomatoes or potatoes or green beans.

He was talking about spiritual fruit. He was saying that when He makes spiritual investments, He gets huge returns. His market never crashes.

Here’s where you and I come in. Most of us probably think we’re fairly average, probably not the cream of the crop but nowhere near the bottom of the barrel either. We’re getting by, for sure, but not much more than that.

But that’s what Jesus does. He takes people who look like they won’t rise to greatness and multiplies their productivity. He puts His arms around the ne’er-do-wells and gives them hope for the future. He goes to the sinful woman of the city and grabs her heart, and He leads the money-grubbing tax collectors to a level of commitment that overshadows their greed.

I think that’s what the thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold means.

It means He’s looking at you, and He’s thinking about the kind of incredible spirituality He’s going to develop in you. He’s dreaming of what you will become, the people you will touch, the lives you will encourage.

When Jesus sees good soil like yours, He gets excited. He knows what He will do through you, how you will become a deeply spiritual Christian man or woman who makes differences in the lives of the people around you.

He loves making bumper crops out of gardens like yours.

Have a great Thursday!

In Christ,

Getting away from people

Today’s thoughts will be relevant to many of you, but not all. If not, I hope you’ll understand our need to discuss it.

Some of you need to find some time to be alone . . . and you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. The mother of small children, for example, probably can’t remember the last time she had any significant stretch of uninterrupted time. Or the dad whose life is a seemingly never-ending cycle of work, family, eat, sleep, repeat.

Or maybe your life stage doesn’t fit into either of the categories above, but you still rarely take time to be alone with your thoughts and God.

But we all need it. We need relationships too, of course, but our souls need time away from people to reflect and think and pray.

Some of you give and give and give. You give to your spouse, to your kids, and to your friends, co-workers, employees, and clients.

And you should. Jesus was a giver, and the essence of Christianity is to love and serve people.

But it’s possible to run out of anything to give.

Which is where the discipline of solitude comes in.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves (Mark 6:30-32).

The apostles would be giving for the rest of their lives, and Jesus was teaching them to take time to get away from the crowds so they’d have something more to give the next day.

But it seems as if Jesus needed it as well. He began and ended His ministry with time alone—at the first He went to the wilderness to fast and pray (Matthew 4:1-11), and at the end to Gethsemane to watch and pray (Matthew 26:36-46).

Incidents like this seem to have been frequent in the Lord’s life: And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23). . . . Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there (Matthew 15:29).

If our Lord in His humanity needed time to prepare for what lay ahead, how much more do we?

We need time to pray. Time to think and reflect. Time to read and meditate and focus.

Because of your schedule, some of you will find this almost impossible to do, but try to take some time to be alone with God. Can you take 5 or 10 minutes today? Can you get away once a month for an afternoon?

Have a great Wednesday!

In Christ,

What time is it?

We westerners live by the clock.

Workers clock in to earn an hourly wage, the attorney and accountant bill by the hour, and we measure distance in hours (“It’s about two and a half hours from Birmingham to Atlanta . . .”).

We grumble when a client shows up 15 minutes late for an appointment or when the concert doesn’t start on time.

Everything should run on schedule, right? Church should start and end on time, and professors shouldn’t lecture one minute past the posted end time. Airlines are judged by how often their jets take off on schedule, and doctors and dentists get a bad reputation if they make their patients wait.

It’s not like this everywhere, of course. On our trips to Africa we’ve noticed that few Africans wear watches, and the ones who do don’t pay any attention to them. Nine o’clock in the morning means “sometime before lunch,” and they don’t mention an ending time when they talk about church services. We say our worship is from 10 till 11; they say it starts at 10. Our worship will go from 10 to 11 (unless the preacher goes a little long . . .), while their worship will start within an hour or two of 10 and go until it’s over.

What does all this have to do with spirituality?

A lot, I think. We can become slaves to time as we rush through every day, cramming in more actions to become more productive. We then become more stressed, which affects our moods, our relationships, and even our spirituality. It’s all about more.

But are we getting more of what we need?

And where does God fit into our already packed schedules?

That’s why most spiritual growth books encourage Christians to practice the discipline of slowness.

And perhaps that’s why Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. The One who came to save the world never let the clock control Him.

So put your watch away and reflect on what these verses might say to you about your relationship with time:

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates (Exodus 20:9-10).

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10).

Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way (Proverbs 19:2).

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).

There’s a lot that’s good about productivity, but what are we producing?

God honors hard work, but what are we working on?

Have you had any Sabbath time lately?

Your most productive time today might not be while you’re on the clock at work or frantically sorting through your to-do list.

It might be when you forget about the time and reflect on what really matters.

Have a great Tuesday!

In Christ,

Getting past the right now

It’s easy to get so focused on what’s happening right now that we lose perspective.

You’ve probably got numerous tasks in front of you today: reports to write, clients/customers to please, documents to create, calls/emails to answer, babies to soothe. People around you expect some kind of production from you, and much of your day will be spent trying to satisfy those demands.

And you can’t exactly ignore those expectations. You’re like everyone else: you’ve got bills to pay and family members to care for, so you’ve got to stay engaged with what’s going on around you.

In this world of legitimate real-life expectations and demands, it’s easy for Christians to lose focus. Easy to forget what really matters, to buy into the lie that this is what it’s all about—demands, expectations, work, production. And do the same thing tomorrow.

But please try to re-center this morning.

Take five minutes and read the story below of the Lord’s interaction with Mary and Martha. Focus especially on what He said to Martha at the end of the passage. As you read, ask God to help you recognize areas of your life where you’re stressing about stuff that isn’t as urgent as it seems right now.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

I like Martha. She was a doer, a worker. No one ever questioned her work ethic or her reliability or her domestic attentiveness.

I bet she fed a lot of church guests in her home, and I doubt many of them complained about the home-cookin’. She was one of those women who got to church potlucks early and stayed until every last morsel was cleaned up and every speck of dirt swept up.

I’d also guess that Martha stayed stressed out about half the time. Nothing was ever quite like she wanted it to be . . . there’s always work to do, floors to sweep, meals to fix.

Sound familiar? Maybe your world isn’t the kitchen and the dining room, but change the elements a little and you might see yourself.

Martha needed to re-center, to see again what she already knew deep down.

Maybe that’s what you need on this Monday morning as well.

Ask the Lord to help you again see the one thing that’snecessary.

Have a great Monday!

In Christ,

Getting ready to worship

Today’s Meditation

I know it’s probably hectic at your house this morning. Some of you reading this have small children to get ready for worship. Other readers don’t, but it’s still hard to do what needs to be done and get ready on time.

But what you’re about to do today matters. It’s not just another day on your calendar. Today is the day as a community of believers we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord.

If you’re reading this before worship, will you take five minutes to prepare yourself? I’ve included part of a worship psalm below. Read it slowly and prayerfully and meditatively.

Remind yourself that today is not about impressing others with your new dress or hair style. It’s not about going out to lunch with friends after church. It’s not about recapping yesterday’s games. There’s nothing wrong with wearing new dresses or enjoying lunch or talking about sports, of course, but let’s make sure those things don’t become our focal point.

Today is an opportunity for us to pour out our adoration and thanksgiving to the One who created the world and everything in it. That’s why we’re assembling with other believers today.

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary (Psalm 96:1-6).

Worship God today. He deserves it, and we need it.

Have a great Sunday!

In Christ,

Practice makes perfect (in Christianity?)

Today’s Meditation

Practice something enough times and you get pretty good at it.

You’ve probably heard of the 10,000-Hour Rule, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell In his book Outliers. It basically means that success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for about 10,000 hours. It works for pretty much anything, from hockey to violin to chess.

Just 20 hours a week for 10 years is all you need.

Turns out the prodigy isn’t so much born with natural ability as he can simply stick with a task hour after hour, week after week, year after year.

You get good at something by practicing it incessantly, stubbornly.

Is it possible that the same principle works in our walk with Christ?

I don’t mean that Christianity is something we strive to “get good at,” as if it were measurable or quantifiable like playing a guitar or hitting a baseball.

But there is something to be said for sticking with whatever you’re trying to do, no matter what happens.

The Bible’s spiritual giants weren’t so much spiritual prodigies as they were people who stuck around and let God keep working on them.

Noah kept building.

Abraham kept walking.

Moses kept leading.

They weren’t naturally more righteous than thousands of others, but what separated them was that God had chosen them, and they submitted to what God had decided He would accomplish through them.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. . . . By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son (Hebrews 11:8,17).

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

You and I aren’t any better or worse than anyone else. We’re not genetically wired to excel or fail at life-changing spirituality.

We just need to stick with it, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

And God will take our meager efforts and make something special out of them. Just keep practicing.

Have a great Saturday!

In Christ,

I’m not too serious about sin

Today’s Meditation

I’m pretty sure I don’t take sin as seriously as I should. I can go through a whole day with low sin awareness, then mumble a Please-forgive-me-Lord before I drift off to sleep.

That’s not good, I know, but perhaps I’m not alone.

Sin should matter more, shouldn’t it?

Ezra’s prayer below is honest, frank, and open.

Please resist the temptation to skim these verses. Read them slowly and let them guide your devotional thoughts today.

Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying:

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. 

“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, . . . And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again . . . ? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:4-15).

If someone stood up Sunday and led us in a prayer that sounded even remotely like that, most people in the church would be suspicious.

I wonder what happened to him?

Whatever he did, it must’ve been bad.

Our prayers are calmer, less radical, much cleaner, more pleasant and palatable.

But why is that?

Perhaps we ought to think more seriously about the view of sin that led Ezra to pray as he did and reflect more personally about why we don’t.

Have a great Friday!

In Christ,

Admitting we’re sinners

Today’s Meditation

When I was in college a Bible class teacher corrected one of my fellow students when the student made this request in his prayer: “Father, please forgive us of the sins we commit every day.” The teacher’s reasoning was that if you’re sinning every day, you’re probably not faithful to Christ.

But I think that implies a misunderstanding of sin.

We probably don’t commit headline-type sins every day, so we might be tempted to think . . .

Well, I didn’t commit adultery today, and I didn’t get drunk or take illegal drugs or kill anyone. Best I can remember, I didn’t curse or swear or steal anything.

Another sin-free day for me, I suppose.

That’s a dangerous way to think.

Think about this short story that Jesus told:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisee looked at his life and was amazed at how good he was. He couldn’t find anything wrong, not a single blight on his near-perfect spiritual life. That tax collector, on the other hand, . . .

Have you ever gotten caught up in that kind of attitude?

It’s tempting, because we can always find someone in our neighborhood or church who has big sin problems. We’re probably not so bold as to say it out loud, but have we thought it?

Without much effort, we can think of a dozen people we know, maybe 30 or 40, who make us look pretty good. Prayer can become an exercise in self-congratulations with a subtle, The-Lord-should-be-thankful-I’m-on-His-side tone.

That’s why God wants us to confess our sins, not someone else’s. We need daily reminders of how much Jesus has forgiven us and how blessed we are to have received God’s grace and mercy.

And that happens when we let the Lord convict us ofevery sin, not just the “big” ones.

Have a great Thursday!

In Christ,

Why saying you’re sorry is so hard

Today’s Meditation

Most people don’t particularly like confessing, which is one reason we’re thinking about it this week.

When’s the last time you asked someone to forgive you? Your spouse, perhaps? Your parents? A friend? Someone you don’t like? Someone who doesn’t like you?

As the saying goes, most of us would rather walk a mile barefoot on red-hot coals or suffer through a root canal with no anesthetic . . .

Why? What makes it so hard?

I wish I had some clever answer here, or at least a memorable way of expressing it, but the answer is quite simple.

We don’t like doing it because of pride. Asking for forgiveness puts us in a weaker position with reference to someone else—a place we don’t like to be.

We’re giving him power over us: Power to say, “I forgive you.” Power to turn her back and walk away. Power to hold it over our head.

And we don’t like that, not one bit.

Which is why we think of every reason why we don’t need to say “I’m sorry,” or we hem and haw and hedge when we confess. If we can somehow get credit for confessing when we didn’t completely confess, we’ll ease our conscience without becoming completely vulnerable. Sort of a confession compromise.

God recognizes this about us, which is probably why He urges personal confession so clearly. Think and pray over these verses for a few minutes today and ask yourself how they apply to you.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16).

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

What would it do for our marriages if both husband and wife—when we did or said something wrong—simply asked for forgiveness, with no hedging?

If parents admitted to their children when they messed up?

If all of just acknowledged our sins openly and honestly to the people we hurt?

It’ll hurt to say it, but it probably won’t be quite as bad as the proverbial hot coals.

Have a great Wednesday!

In Christ,