Weathering The Storm

Recently as I was sitting in my favorite chair reading a book my eyes were drawn to the quickly shifting clouds that passed by the large windows in my living room. Within a few minutes the bright light of the sun disappeared and was overtaken by a heavy gray cloud. Then came the storm! First, rain began to shower down like I have never seen it before. Moments later small pellets of ice followed and bounced off the metal railing making a loud machine-gun like sound. As the wind picked up momentum the giant fir trees began to sway as their deep roots held fast deep within the earth. A single clap of thunder followed by a streak of light passed over the horizon which signaled the procession of sleet then snow. Then, in the same way the storm so quickly darkened the day the sun came back to reclaim its rightful place. 

As I thought about the force of the wind and the incredible speed at which the storm came and went my mind wondered what it would have been like for the disciples as they experienced a similar storm on the sea of Galilee.

Matthew chapter 8 holds the account of the storm in which the disciples (some of whom were veteran fisherman) felt their very lives were threatened. They had just witnessed the incredible power of Jesus through the healing of a man with leprosy and Peter’s mother-in-law and other miracles. Tired and ready for a rest, Jesus and the disciples boarded a boat to sail across to the other side of the lake. Little did they know the next part of their journey would draw them into an epic storm that made them fear for their lives as they endured the wind and raging waters. 

Matthew’s account of this hair-raising experience through the storm is a testimony to the incredible power and sovereignty of Jesus as God. Verse 27 of chapter 8 describe the moment following Jesus’ rebuke (calming) of the storm, it says, “The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”” Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us that Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat as the stormy weather tossed them about; when I read this, I see a soul and mind warming picture of peace in the midst of the storm. Jesus, the author and creator of the earth we walk on and breath of life we live with is the anchor of peace that grounds us in a storm. 

In those moments while I was watching the storm from the comfort of my chair it reminded me of Gods incredible power, authority and control over all things in life, especially in the storms. The “storms of life”, the trials we experience can come as swiftly as the ones mentioned here. The outcome or weathering of the storm can be hard to navigate on our own; when we have the assurance of Christ as our anchor, we can be strong and courageous. In the storm we may be frightened or dismayed but often those feelings draw us closer to Jesus, we grow deeper into our relationship with him, and he uses those moments to know and trust him more. As believers Jesus is always in the boat with us, in full control as we live through the storms of life. He is our comfort and peace, what a beautiful promise for all of us.   

Isaiah 41:10 reads, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Go in peace today as you seek God in the storms of life and give thanks for his provision in the times of calm. 

The Great _ommission

An omission is defined as “the action of excluding or leaving out someone or something”. Today, I have purposely left something out in my title, did it catch your attention? I feel it is befitting of the mysterious tendency that creeps into the ordinary day-to-day pattern of life we as believers can sometimes drift into. The exclusion or omission of clear instruction in our spiritual life has an impact on our mission as followers of Jesus Christ. We all tend to drift without continuous reminders of who we are called to be and what our mission is as believers. 

Like the disciples, we have been given a clear and concise mandate as believers, it is recorded for us in Matthew chapter 28: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the mission we chose to accept when we entered into a personal relationship with the Son of God. His words to us, his clear instructions are central to the life we are to live as his disciples.  We are called to be disciple making disciples. So, what does this look like for us today, in what context are we to “go”?

The first thing that we must consider as we walk in obedience to this command today is the promise that follows it; something that we often forget when we begin to slip into that mysterious tendency I mentioned earlier, Jesus says: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” There should be incredible encouragement found for each one of us in this promise, not just in the beginning as we are fired up and ready to go, but right through till the end. He is with us, (think about that for a minute). “Go” in this passage refers to the act of going in a particular direction. Figuratively, it refers to taking a particular course of action, and in this case has an effect on someone becoming a disciple (a follower of Christ). The Great Commission is not only meant to cross borders (all nations) but is a call for all believers to be active in their own little parts of the world. This means we are to actively influence those who are close to us, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community members by living out our faith in a way that brings about change (transformational change) in their lives. 

Have you been living in omission to the Great Commission? Has life shifted your focus to a different mission? One of the best ways to build your confidence in sharing your faith so that you can fulfill your God given mission, is to immerse yourself in His word. The Bible is full of incredible testimonies of God’s amazing mercy and grace. His word has been inspiring believers for centuries to be on task, to be ready for action and to go out into the world on mission for him. It is my prayer for you that you are a disciple making disciple. 

Rocks and More

FullSizeRenderOne of the things I enjoy about living on the west coast of British Columbia is the easy access to a variety of different types of beaches. One of my favorite things to do on the beach is collect uniquely formed rocks and rocks of interesting color. I am not a rock expert, I can’t identify all the different types of rock or tell you how they are formed. My rock identifications skills are limited to knowing the best skipping rocks on the beach and the rocks that fly perfectly straight from my slingshot.

In Matthew chapter 7:24, Matthew uses a simple illustration to help us identify the connection between listening to God’s word and living them out in our lives. This is what he says: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock”. “These words of mine”, refer to the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Wisdom is living a life that is holy and pleasing to God; to be wise like the man who built his house on the rock is a picture of us standing on the foundations and truths presented by God through the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount is bursting at the seams with knowledge and understanding for us as believers. Jesus is extremely clear in his teachings on topics like murder, adultery, divorce, generosity, love for our enemies, prayer and worry. All these things and more define how we are to live among one another, how we are to respond to the grace and mercy of a God who created us and desires to have a relationship with us.

Our human condition (our sinful nature) is constantly fighting to distract and pull us away from living out the truths of scripture. Sin has a notorious way of creeping into our lives, it rolls around and mixes into our lives causing us to stumble and fall. Matthew continues to tell us of the foolish man who built his house on the sand and how it was destroyed by the water and wind. Living in ignorance to the words that we have heard in scripture is foolishness and leads to separation from God. There is a wonderful little children’s song that teaches these truths from scripture, my favorite line as a kid was “and the house on the sand went splat”. The house is you and me, build your house on a firm foundation like the wise man, feel free to “renovate” and add-on but follow the building code (be wise in the knowledge and understanding of God’s word).

Authority and Leadership

In one of my previous entries I talked about the authority that Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew chapter 10, I would like to revisit this topic again in light of the last few verses in the book of Matthew in the great commission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus was very clear that He had all power and authority in both heaven and earth, this is the same authority he empowered the disciples with to go out and fulfill the mission of the great commission, the same mission that we as leaders in the church have today. As a leader Jesus gave them a clear and well-defined purpose for their mission to make disciples of all nations. Jesus sets for us the standard that raises the bar for us as leaders to be on mission with our leadership teams. We as leaders have to allow those within our influence to experience a little of what the disciples did when Jesus sent them out; we have to empower them to lead in the areas where they are gifted.

“And behold, I am with you always…” This for me is the best part; we are never alone in our journey as leaders. Jesus told the disciples that he would be there beside them till the end of the age. We are living and breathing the same promise that they received, we have the same assurance that Jesus is with us until he comes again. As we have this assurance we have to model this and stand with those who lead alongside us. In doing so we can lead effectively together “to cause the name of Jesus Christ to be exalted, God glorified, and believers to be built up as together we reach out with the gospel to the lost.”

Strong Words and a Loving Heart

“Hypocrites… Blind guides… Blind fools… Full of wickedness… Snakes and brood of vipers…”

These are all strong words and declarations Jesus speaks to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Jesus presents for us some of the consequences and threats that sin and darkness have for leaders and more specifically to those whose positions are involved with spiritual leadership.

Matthew chapter 23 gives us some important reminders, we as leaders need help to understand the dangers of falling away from God’s leading in our lives. Our lives need to reflect the words we speak, we need to live the truths that have been given to us through the word. Attitudes of servant hood and humility should stand in place of seeking distinction and praise. When Gods people respond to His call we need to encourage and rejoice with them as they live a new life in Christ. God’s love for us is revealed through His justice, mercy and faithfulness in our lives, our efforts must reflect these things over the arguments and sometimes meaningless specifics. Leading with a righteous heart and living in an attitude of love of others will show that God has done a great work in our lives making us an example for others to follow.

Growing up I often heard this statement “hate the sin not the sinner”. Jesus despised what the Pharisees were doing but I do believe that He had a love for them as He did for all the lost people. Jesus “longed to gather” (to love and care for) the people of Jerusalem including the Pharisees and teachers. Even though some may choose to separate from him he is wanting and waiting for us to cry out “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Parables and More…

Throughout the book of Matthew we have seen Jesus in action as He leads by example while teaching and training the disciples. It was important that the disciples did not overlook how Jesus responded to the needs of the people around him. In the same way, readers today must be conscious of the example Jesus set in caring for the physical needs of those around us. Stories like the healing of the leper, the centurion’s boy, Jairus’ daughter and the healing of two blind men give us evidence of his authority and a practical picture of “practicing what he preaches” in order to train his disciples.

When we think about building and managing ministry teams we often look for tools that help us as we grow into an effective team. As Jesus teaches his disciples as well as the people around him through the use of parables, he is able to preach to a diverse audience. We begin to understand both the simplicities and complexities of the messages that are written through the words in each of the parables. Why did Jesus choose to speak in parables to the crowds and then only in private explain their deeper meaning to the disciples? Even the disciples asked this question of Jesus and he answers them by saying the people have not experienced the depths of the knowledge of the kingdom of God that they have. Giving the people a simple and clear picture was the only way they could begin to comprehend the complexities of the gospel message.

Matthew Henry in his commentary makes this note: “The nearer we draw to Christ, and the more we converse with him, the better acquainted we shall be with gospel mysteries.” The tools we need as leaders are right in front of us, built into the words written in scripture. In order for us to grow and draw nearer to Christ as Matthew Henry states, we must be conversing with him, spending time in his word and spending time in prayer asking for direction and understanding. The disciples had Jesus to lean on and learn from; today we have his written word that gives us direction and understanding according to his will.

Leadership Principles in Matthew 10.

When we read about Jesus sending out the Apostles in Matthew chapter 10 we can pull from the text some important principles for effective leadership and lessons for building and managing our teams.

#1 – Priority and focus. Jesus had commanded them “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus had given them a clear message as to what the priority of this first mission was. I have been in situations where leaders have not communicated a clear priority or focus for a task and the often we can be left wondering what it is we are to be doing. Without this specific plan or objective our efforts sometimes seem lost or our time is wasted. We as leaders must have a clear understanding ourselves of what we are trying to accomplish otherwise those who we lead will be left floundering.

#2 – Expectations. “Go to the lost sheep… heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”(v.8) Those are very specific expectations, I personally work well within these parameters, give me the job, give me the expectations (details) and away I go. As we grow our ministry teams and groups I do feel that a clear picture and clear communication of our expectations is critical. Without expectations, without goals we can easily become lost and confused.

#3 – Discernment & Stewardship. “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave” (v.11). “ If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”(v14) Two very important principles that help us understand that we need to be careful who we associate with, not allowing ourselves to become trapped and distracted from our intended mission. As the Apostles went from town to town it was there responsibility to be good stewards of their time and resources, just as we need to be today.

#4 – Perseverance. “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (v.22). We will face troubles and adversity when we lead but knowing that when we put our hope and trust in God we will be able to stand firm till the end. We as leaders need to be a model of perseverance to those around us; we need to be examples of the truth found in this verse.

Each of these principles and others found in this passage translate well into our lives today. Even as we lead today we can run into some of the “roadblocks” that the Apostles did. I am thankful for the freedoms we have in our country today that allows us to lead and be a church that can reach out into our community.

Disciples & Apostles

Matthew chapter 10 is packed with a wealth of important instructions as Jesus sent the apostles out to reach the lost. As I started to unpack these verses I wrestled with and have tried to understand the “promotion” from being called disciples to becoming apostles. What is it that signified the change in title for the disciples?

The first verse of chapter 10 tells us that “He gave them authority”, authority to heal the sick and drive out impure and evil spirits. These twelve men had been walking closely with Jesus learning and experiencing first hand the compassion and love for the lost. Jesus had been leading these men through “on the job” learning, building in them the foundation of His love in their own hearts. What an amazing example of a truly effective discipleship training experience, these twelve men were “immersed” in the learning and doing ministry.

The disciples were learning, living and being prepared for what Paul later describes in 1 Timothy as a “noble task”. Having been tested and proven to be above reproach, respectable, self-controlled, and hospitable, these newly appointed apostles were now prepared to shine Jesus’ light in the darkness, to reach the lost with the good news of His love.

The Beginning of a Ministry Team.

Do you remember the acronym WWJD, popularized in the 1990’s by a youth group leader in Michigan to help the youth of the church remember the phrase “What Would Jesus Do”?

Throughout the book of Matthew we get to experience some of what Jesus did do (WJDD) as he began his ministry, we see how He surrounded himself with a group of men (the 12 disciples) which today we might call a ministry team. Beginning in chapter four of Matthew we see Jesus beginning to call his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John. I might ask why these men? What training or experience do they have in aligning them-selves with the ministry of Jesus?

I don’t think it’s any accident that shortly after Jesus calls these men that we encounter in scripture the Sermon on the Mount. “and he began to teach them”. (Mt.5:2) Jesus has started the training and teaching process with the disciples giving them the solid foundation of His love and direction for a life in ministry and for Christian living. The disciples were his intended audience and the crowds that gathered around him also benefited from his teachings. We can only imagine what it might have been like to hear Jesus speak these words of instruction, Matthew chapter 7:28 tells us that the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught with such authority.

So what have we seen so far? We have seen Jesus recruit leaders, we have seen him begin to train and teach those leaders and as we continue reading deeper into Matthew we will understand more about what Jesus did do.