Thank You in the Storm

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 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God…and broke off a piece and ate it.  Acts 27:35

Taken by itself, this verse is not particularly noteworthy—until we consider its context. 276 terrified sailors had not eaten for two weeks while the wind continued to slam them like a WWF wrestler. Shouting above the storm, Paul calmly informed the panicked crew that they were about to be shipwrecked. Then he passed out the Happy Meals and thanked God—while thunder cracked and rain threatened to sink them. This was no routine prayer over the pizza. This was white-knuckle, hang-on-to-the banister kind of praying, because they saw no reason to be thankful. Do you think the sailors said, “Amen?”

It’s easy to thank God after the storm has passed—after you get the job, the spouse, or the award. But Faith thanks God beforehand. Faith is always gazing into the heart of a wise and loving God. Faith thanks God while the storm still rages because it refuses to give up hope—not hope that everything will turn out the way we want, but hope that it will turn out as God wants. Faith chooses to believe that what God wants is superior to what we want and thanks Him that He is in charge.

Did I Miss Something?

But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” Acts 27:26

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It happens all the way through the Bible. God gives someone an instruction, they obey, and then Bam! Everything goes haywire. God called Abraham to leave his home and county and go to the land God would give him. Abe obeyed, and the next thing we know, there is a famine in that land (Gen.12:4,10). An angel told Mary she would be the mother of the Messiah, which must have incited pastel visions of glory, respect, and joy. Next thing she knows, she’s a pregnant single mom starting labor on the back of a donkey (Luke 1:31). When God promised Paul that no one would die in the storm, He did not promise a helicopter rescue. His next words were, “Oh, and Paul, you’re going to be shipwrecked on a foreign island.”

We often have the mistaken idea that obedience to God will result in a stroll through the rose garden. We have adopted the false idea that following God means our life here on earth will be easier. Many times, the opposite is true. What if Mary had said, “No thanks” to the Son of God because her obedience would result in heartache, embarrassment, and pain? If Paul had rejected the shipwreck idea, the entire island of Malta would have missed the gospel. We are only responsible for our obedience to God, not the results of that obedience. God is working behind the scenes to paint a bigger picture than we can see. When obedience is our goal, we don’t have to settle for human-sized results. We get to experience God-sized results.
Our question at the end of each day should be this: “Lord, was I as obedient to you today as I know how to be?” When the answer is “yes,” our part is accomplished. The results are up to Him.

Jump Into Hope

 “So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.”  Acts 27:25

Flames ripped through the roof of the two-story farmhouse. A father stood below the window of his little boy’s room, arms raised, panic in his voice. “Jump son! Jump to me! I will catch you!” A tiny head appeared over the windowsill as smoke billowed around him. “I’m scared, Daddy!” “I know son,” the father cried. “But I have never lied to you. I’m not lying now. If I say I will catch you, then you know it is true. Please, Buddy, jump!” The head disappeared and then two little shoes poked out from the billowing smoke. Moments later, a small body hurtled toward the ground and landed safely in outstretched arms. The little boy had chosen to leap into the arms of hope based solely upon his father’s promise.

Paul did the same thing. The storm had stripped every man of his strength and resources. Then Paul cried out to his Father. “It’s okay, Paul,” came the comforting words. “No one will be lost.” Because his Father had never lied to him before, Paul was willing to jump into those outstretched arms. But to do so, he had to reject other voices clamoring to be heard. He rejected fear and hopelessness. He rejected the terror-stricken words of the sailors and the gravity of his circumstances. He rejected even the voices shouting inside his own thoughts. He jumped into hope—based solely upon his Father’s promise.

When panic sets in, what voice do you obey? Are you willing to jump into hope when your Father calls to you?

Where's Your Hope?

“The terrible storm raged for many days…until at last all hope was gone.”  Acts 27:20  

All hope was gone. Is there a sadder phrase in the English language? Hope is the fuel that keeps us going. Without it, why try? Those who do not know Jesus place their hope in something tangible or something they create themselves, such as religion, good deeds, or an imaginary god. Others place their hope in their own strength, wisdom, abilities, or even in other people or circumstances. Some people put all their hope in their savings account, Wall Street, or a rich uncle, while others put hope in their own ideas which often begin with “I know what the Bible says, but I think that…” The problem with those hopes is that they are based upon that which is changeable, outside our control, or simply false.

The sailors on this ship had put their hope in the weather changing, something they could not control. When hope is anchored to anything that is part of this broken world, we set ourselves up for disappointment. For hope to be solid and lasting, it must be anchored to something solid and lasting. Within our ever-changing universe, the only solid and lasting anchor is Jesus Christ. When we have placed our lives in His hands, we can trust that He will use everything that happens for our eternal good. Even when lesser hopes come crashing down, we never have to say, “All hope is gone.”  As long as our ships are anchored to His truth, we always have hope. 

Reality Faith

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Lilly and Sam raced downstairs on Christmas morning, barely able to contain their excitement. The tree was surrounded by packages that had mysteriously appeared during the night. “I got a bike!” Lilly whispered to her brother. Sam glanced at the packages and then at Lilly. “Where? There’s no bike under there.” She squealed with glee. “I know! It’s in the garage. I saw it last night.” Even though Mom and Dad were not yet with them, and the kids could see no bike with Lilly’s name on it, Lilly had complete confidence that what she hoped for was already hers. Her faith was more than wishful thinking, because she knew it was only a matter of time until her hope became reality.

That’s what the word substance means in this verse. Try substituting “reality” for the word “substance” and see how strong that sounds. Faith is more than wishful thinking; it begins where the will of God is known. So before we can exercise a reality kind of faith, we must draw close enough to God to know His will for our situation. This is not a Genie-in-the-Sky kind of faith, where our wish is His command. God is far greater than that. This is an “If-He-said-it-then-He-will-do it” kind of faith.  When we desire what He desires for us, we can trust that it is only a matter of time until our hope becomes reality. 

What has God promised in your situation? Are you exercising a reality kind of faith?

Blind Faith


Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

Christians are sometimes accused of having blind faith. You can see why. We believe in an invisible God who controls the world from His invisible throne and offers salvation through a Man who lived over 2000 years ago. Taken at face value, our faith can sound a bit outlandish. So is it blind faith?

Consider it this way: If you walked up to a man in the middle of the city and handed him your keys, wallet, and social security card and asked him to hold them until tomorrow, that would be blind faith. If you have no history with this man, then you don’t know whether he is a priest or a serial killer. Any faith you place in him is blind faith. However, if that man is your best friend, your faith has a foundation. You have a history with him. Your friend has proven to be trustworthy over and over again. 

So it is with God. We can hold unswervingly to our hope, because of the One in whom we hope. God has demonstrated his faithfulness throughout history, which is His-story. We have only to look in His Book to see thousands of examples of His love, power, and forgiveness throughout the ages. If we have come to know Him, then we also have the evidence of a transformed life. Faith in God is not blind faith; it is solid faith, because He has earned the right to be trusted.

 What evidences do His-story and your story present that prove your faith is not blind?  


Self Talk


Why are you in despair, O my soul?... Hope in God… Psalm 42:5

 “What an idiot! What’s the matter with you? Why can’t you do anything right?”  You may never dream of saying things like that to anyone else, but how do you speak to yourself? When you fail.  When you disappoint someone. When you’re depressed, are you your own cheerleader or are you shouting taunts from the opponents’ stands?  Self-talk is powerful. We tend to believe what we hear, and if we keep hearing negative opinions—even from ourselves—we start to think they’re true.

When David was in despair, he talked to himself. But instead of predicting doom and gloom, he reminded himself that God was with him. When he had no external reason for hope, he reminded himself that he could hope in God. Instead of berating himself, he encouraged himself by challenging his depression. When all seems lost around us, children of God don’t have to despair. We can hope in God, as David did. Rather than look around, we can look up and our hearts are encouraged. We need to share that enthusiasm with ourselves and others. When we speak truth, our hearts begin to believe it. We can hope in God when there is no other reason to hope, because His plan for us is bigger than right now. Our self-talk should be too.

Evaluate your self-talk? Does it agree with what God says about you? Try encouraging yourself with scripture.

White Knuckle Christianity

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 so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

Some days you wish you had never gotten out of bed. The inspiration from Sunday’s sermon is long gone and the rest of the week glares at you from the calendar. You can’t even find hope at all, much less abound in it. You had great hope Sunday afternoon. You were gonna make some changes, step it up, recommit yourself to your life’s purpose. You even set your Bible on the edge of the table to remind you to read it. But by the time that early alarm rang, the enthusiasm had dwindled. What happened to your hope? Shouldn’t it last longer than that?

 One lesson all Christians must learn is that we cannot live the Christian life in our own strength. If we appear to be succeeding by our own efforts, we puff up with pride. If we fall flat, we slink off in defeat.  We can’t even love God the way we should. Only God can love God like God should be loved. And only God can live according to the standards He sets for us. He set it up that way on purpose—to highlight just how badly we need Him. We hang on to hope by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. The more we yield to His direction, the stronger our hope. We don’t try harder, we surrender more. The more our lives are yielded to Him, the more we can abound in hope. The hope that lasts longer than Sunday’s sermon.

Are you worn out from trying to “act like a Christian” in your own strength? Don’t try harder; surrender more.


Fountain of...What?

            May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing… Romans 15:13
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You tumble out of the dusty tour van and find yourself gazing at the Fountain of Youth. You dip into its waters, look in the mirror, and…Violá!  You look ten years younger! Something in that fountain had the power to transform you and everyone else, too. The supply never runs out. You find the caretaker and ask how you can have such a fountain in your backyard.

Unfortunately, you can’t have the fountain of youth, but you can have a fountain of hope. This verse tells us that every child of God has access to that fountain. The God of hope is the fountain from which all other hopes flow. You are invited to dip into this fountain any time you feel discouraged and… Violá!  You are filled with joy and peace. The cup we use to scoop up this hope is the word “believing.” Hope is readily available to us, and we access it by believing what God’s word says, regardless of our circumstances. We believe His promises, no matter how grim our life may appear. We often label God as a God of wrath, God of judgment, or God-Who-is-a-long-ways-off. He wants us to know Him as the God of hope, because only a hopeful God can heal the bruised heart of a victim, ease the seared conscience of a repentant sinner, and repair this broken world. Only the God of hope can offer us treasure beyond this world and a reason to go on when we want to give up.

Ready for some joy and peace? Pick up your cup of “believing” and dip into the fountain of hope. 

Faith vs. Hope

Now abides faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Audrey and Susan were waiting after school for Susan's father to pick them up for dance class. He was late. Audrey glanced at her watch. "I sure hope he remembers," she said. Susan smiled. "I know he will. He's my dad and if he said he will do it, he will do it." Audrey had hope; Susan had faith, and according to this verse they are not the same.

We know what love is because verses 4-11 of this chapter tell us. But faith and hope are often mistaken for each other. Hope is an expectation that propels us forward into unknown territory. We hope we are getting a raise, passing an exam, or making the team. But hope has no foundation other than our desire for a certain outcome. Faith, however, is built upon the trustworthiness of something outside ourselves. 

Hope stirs the desire; faith grabs hold of it until it is realized. We need them both to have a relationship with God. Hope causes us to look up in expectation that there is a God who loves us and offers to save. Faith takes hold of His truth and refuses to let go. Hope is a wish; faith is an action. Hope says, “I believe that God loves me and offers eternal life.” Faith says, “I am placing my life and future in His hands.”
 Is your relationship with God based purely on hope? Only faith can save you (Hebrews 11:6).

Powerful Praying

Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! James 5:17

The goal of effective prayer is to align our wills with God’s. But sometimes we treat prayer as though it was a spiritual checklist, and once we’ve gone down the list, we are free to resume our normal lives. The Bible doesn’t present prayer that way. Even the idea of a “prayer list” can be misleading if we view communication with God as a duty. Praying down a list is fine, but don’t stop there. After we have complained, begged, repented, claimed and exhausted our list of demands, God is just getting started. Some Christians call this “praying through.”

“Praying through” means we’ve come to the end of our ability to pray, and we let the Holy Spirit take over (Rom. 8:26). The real passions of God’s heart are usually revealed at the end of our prayer list. He longs for us to join Him in His work on earth. He is not indifferent to our wants and needs; He simply has a bigger agenda in mind. Prayer is like a parent who takes a child to the doctor for vaccinations. The child may beg not to go, but a wise parent does not allow a child’s desires to supersede the bigger plan. Our prayers are often attempts to supersede God’s bigger plan. When we “pray through,” we come to know the heart of God in a deeper way so that our prayers, like Elijah’s, bring about uncommon results.

Have you approached prayer as a checklist to be completed? Try praying through, and God will join you.

Love the Haters

 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  Luke 6:32

Westboro. ISIS. Those names represent everything we hate: Bigotry. Extremism. Self-righteousness. We feel justified in hating them; it’s hard not to. But they give us a great opportunity to practice what Jesus taught about loving our enemies. Compared to them, even the most annoying people in our lives seem loveable. Love does not mean we condone their actions. But it means that we desire God’s best in their lives, and are willing to help that happen. Uncommon love means we love people who don’t deserve it, who may never love us back. Jesus wants us to love Westboro. ISIS. Political opposites. Even ex-spouses. 

So why does Jesus require such a difficult thing? The answer is simple: because we can’t do it alone. No way can we love a black-hooded executioner beheading a missionary. It’s not in us, and that’s what Jesus wants us to recognize. It is supernatural to love people like that; our human love won’t stretch that far. We don’t even want it to. But when Jesus’ followers show that kind of love, the world takes notice. It’s unnatural. It’s unearned. It’s uncommon.

 Anyone can love the lovers, but who loves the haters? We do.

What is Real Freedom?

 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

The shout of the twenty-somethings was so loud that it muffled the rattle of chains against the prison bars. “We’re free! Nobody’s gonna hold us back from doing what we wanna do! We can be anything we want: whatever gender, whatever sexual preference, whatever lifestyle we want! You can bow down to an invisible God if you want to, but we’re our own gods!” A burst of expletives echoed from the cell walls, drowning out the groans of the addicts retching on the floor.

The ministry team from a local church listened quietly, and then the leader tried again. He held out a Bible. “No my friends, you only think you’re free. Don’t you see the chains? The bars? The very sins you cling to have enslaved you, while you insist that you are free. Jesus offers real life, abundant life, uncommon life. Won’t you take it?” Hysterical laughter met his words. “You think you know what living is, preacher?” asked a man in the last stages of AIDS. “You guys with your monogamy, sobriety, and churchy junk.” Chains clattered as another prisoner shook his track-marked arm at the group outside. “You don’t know what you’re missing!” The pastor lowered the Bible. “Yeah, we know what we’re missing. That’s why we’re grateful for Jesus.”

The world defines “life” as the freedom to do anything you want. While it is true that we can choose our lifestyle, we cannot choose the consequences. Are you in prison while declaring that you are free? 

The Substitute

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

The courtroom falls silent as the judge repeats the jury’s verdict: Guilty. Death penalty. Everyone knows you are guilty; you’d even admitted robbing your neighbor’s house and torching it. Your friends had been laughing, urging you on. Drunk with rage, you hadn’t cared that the neighbor’s son was asleep upstairs. You hated those neighbors. Millionaires, building hospitals and soup kitchens. Thought they were so perfect. They deserved to have their do-good world rocked a little. But now the fun is over. You’re rethinking your choices, but it’s too late. The deed was done and the law must be satisfied. Justice requires your death.

As the uniforms lead you away, the courtroom doors fling open. A well-dressed man races down the aisle. “Stop!” he shouts. Everyone gasps. It’s your neighbor. Tears flowing down his face, he approaches the judge’s bench. “Your Honor, please. Let me take the punishment. There’s so much life ahead for this one, and he’s not ready to die. I’ll take his place.” In horror you watch the bailiff unlock your handcuffs and place them on the town benefactor. As they lead him away, you turn to the judge. “No! That’s not right. He didn’t do anything, I did. I should pay my own way!” The judge bangs the gavel once more. “You’re free to go. The law has been satisfied. The one you wronged has taken your punishment.”

That is what God did for us. While we still hated Him, He took our punishment. You’ve been given a second chance at life. How are you using such a gift?  

The Annointing

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  Luke 4:18

The overly-tanned speaker in the silk leisure suit flashes a set of perfectly capped teeth and adjusts His face in what he assumes is a pious expression. “Naaaw, breth-ren!” he shouts. “I fe-e-el th’ anointin’ comin upon me!” He then proceeds to fleece the flock and sell $99 chances to receive the same “anointing” he claims to have. Unfortunately, people are falling all over each other to “sow” their hard-earned money into this “ministry.” What he calls “th’ anointin’” is indeed found in scripture, but not in the way he thinks. Second Peter 2 gives a scathing review of charlatans like this.

In contrast, the genuine anointing by the Holy Spirit is described in Luke 4. Jesus stood in the temple and read from the scroll of Isaiah, concluding with the startling announcement that He was the fulfillment of that prophecy. He then spent three years demonstrating what true anointing looked like: loving the unlovely, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and proclaiming salvation and forgiveness to all who believed in Him. His anointing led him straight to the cross—not to a gold-plated mansion financed by the sick and the desperate. He gave everything and took nothing. His anointing empowered Him to carry out the plan of God, because His reward was not limited to this material world. He offers that anointing to anyone who will receive it.

For what purpose has God anointed you? Have you received it?