Unwavering faith

Daily Readings: Genesis 23-24, Psalm 10, Matthew 8

“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” –Matthew 8:23-26

When we read stories in the bible it can be easy to be amazed at the lack of faith we see throughout these stories. Just before this passage we read all throughout Matthew 8 about all of the miracles Jesus was performing. He was curing leprosy, healing the sick, and casting out demons. His disciples had just witnessed miracle after miracle after miracle.

Then the storm came.

At the first sign of adversity they immediately lost faith. I can almost picture the partial smile, partial shaking of the head that Jesus must have had as he said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” If I was Jesus I would want to say, “Are you serious right now? Have you completely forgotten the last few days? And a simple storm causes your faith to be shaken?”

We see this throughout the Bible. Miracles occur! Faith is off the charts! Adversity hits. Faith immediately falters. It can be easy to shake our own heads and say, “How could they forget so quickly?”

And yet, I find myself frequently being the disciple in the boat. There have been so many times in my life where God showed up in a big way that left me in awe of what an incredible God we serve and then some type of frustration or adversity arises and I find my faith being shaken. Not my big picture faith in God, Jesus, and the gospel; but my daily faith. I am talking about the type of faith that causes us to walk through life trusting that God has our back. Knowing that we can just focus on doing our best, and that God can take care of the rest. When I am at my best in life, this is the posture of my heart. It is a posture of faith, thankfulness, and peace.

This is a challenging posture to maintain at times in our fast paced world but I cannot think of a better way to live out of our true identity in Christ while out there in the marketplace as a Christian. I can’t imagine a better way to cause heads to turn and ask, “How is that he/she always seem to be at peace in the storm? How do they always seem to have it together even in the middle of real challenges? Whatever they have, I want some of it!”

Responding well to challenges in life is a powerful form of ministering to those in our immediate sphere of influence. It is an amazing way to advance the gospel.

So, next time, when the wind is whipping, the lightning crashing, and the waves cresting over the side of the boat in your life; remember that Jesus is in the boat with you. Remember all of the amazing blessings he has already put in your life. Bring yourself back to that place of faith.

When those challenges come I know that Jesus is always looking down on me with a smile. My desire is that the smile on his face says, “Aaron, thank you for your unwavering faith.” as opposed to, “Oh Aaron. You of little faith, why are you afraid?”

Thought to ponder

What are some of the most recent blessings that God has showered down on my life? When was the last time I allowed the wind and the waves to shake my faith?

Observing our fruit

Daily Readings: Genesis 21-22, Psalm 9, Matthew 7

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” -Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus gave this extremely stern warning wrapping up the Sermon on the Mount. There is a version of Christianity today that tends to preach the Hollywood version of someone being saved. We want it to be a dramatic scene from a movie where someone prays a single prayer in a moment of divine revelation that they are not living according to God’s will in their life and, “boom”, salvation has been obtained and eternity in heaven is guaranteed!

I do believe that there is a large amount of scripture that we will come to later on in our journey through the Bible in 365 days pointing to the fact that someone cannot lose their salvation once they have truly given their life over to Christ. However, how do we know if someone actually has genuinely given their life over to Christ or if they have simply prayed a prayer without actually accepting Jesus as Lord over their life?

I think we have all, at some point in our lives, in an emotional state, tired of how we were living, made some type of bold New Year’s resolution that we were done being unhealthy, sick of being bad with our money, tired of our _______ habit, etc. and declared before friends and family, “No more!”

What happened next? The true test of whether actual life change took place is simple.

Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

He goes on further to say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

We are all going to have moments of weakness. The Bible is clear on that as well. Jesus tells us that by ourselves, none of this is possible, but only through God. We are all still going to continue to have a battle raging between our new identity in Christ with the Holy Spirit living within us on one side and our flesh desiring all of our old sinful habits on the other. Your heart changes when you truly invite Christ in, but that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally backslide into old habits.

However, if someone has truly accepted Christ into their life and given their life over entirely, people should see a change. Those who know us best should be able to observe the fruit of our vine and say, “Something is different.” We might fall off the horse, but if you have the spirit living within you, you get right back on. If the “prayer you prayed” was simply another type of New Year’s resolution you were hoping might stick, when you get knocked off you probably just say, “Well, I gave it a good shot,” and go right back to living the life you were before without attempting to get back to building your house on the rock like Jesus commanded.

We are not saved through our works. None of us is capable of “earning salvation” because we will always fall short. We are only saved through our faith in Christ. However, our actions do indicate whether we are the foolish man Jesus talked about who hears the words and does not put them into practice and is like a man who built his house on sand. If we simply hear but do not take action, like the idea of the gospel but don’t fully give our lives over to Christ, pray a prayer without actually accepting the authority of Jesus into our life over the way we live, then we are just building a house on sand.

We are not perfect. There will always be setbacks. We will face adversity in our walk and the enemy will work like crazy to tempt us back into our old way of living. How we respond after falling short is one of the biggest pieces of “fruit on the vine” that we can observe in our own life. A changed heart will desire to repent, turn, and get back on the path even though it is difficult. If we have not truly given our life over to Christ it is far simpler to rationalize, justify, and continue down our old path.

This isn’t as warm and fuzzy as some versions of the gospel that are preached in America today, but Jesus wasn’t going for warm and fuzzy when you listen to his teaching. He was going for radical heart change.

It starts with honestly observing our fruit.

The question, “Have I truly given my life over to Christ?” is the most critical question we can ask ourselves. It has eternal consequences. It is way easier to just coast along and say, “Yeah, of course. I prayed that prayer a while ago!”

I personally “prayed that prayer” several times in my life before I believe that I was actually saved. I don’t know how many times it took, but it was more than one or two. Previously I said all the right words, “Jesus, come into my life.” but didn’t actually accept him in. It doesn’t do any good inviting a friend over if you refuse to open the door and allow them into your house when they arrive.

When I finally decided it was time to really allow God to take control of my life, the aftermath of that prayer looked a whole lot different. I began rebuilding the broken down foundation, previously built on sand, but this time built it on the rock. My fruit starting looking different than it had previously. Life didn’t get easier over night, but the gospel doesn’t promise “easy”. However, there was so much more peace, contentment, and a genuine desire to share what Christ did in my life.

I think this desire to share about Jesus tells us a whole lot about where our hearts are. In Psalm 9 today we read, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.”

When Jesus is allowed to enter your life and true transformation occurs, it is so exciting! I couldn’t wait to tell someone, and then someone else, and then someone else…about God’s wonderful deeds. The fruit I began to see on my vine was full of thankfulness and amazement that I could be so loved when still so lost.

Jesus wants to be truly invited in. He is standing there are the door waiting. He wants to help each and every one of us to build our houses on the rock and be a vine that produces fruit.

Over the past several days we worked through so many aspects of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus doesn’t dance around the truth or soften his message. It was a challenging message he delivered. At times I read Matthew 5-7 and it can feel hopeless. How can we live up to this?

Jesus wants to be invited in so that he can do the heavy lifting. We cannot possibly hope to do it ourselves.

I hope as we wrap up these several days working through the Sermon on the Mount, that we all have the same response that the crowd had at the end of Matthew 7 when Jesus finished: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”

Thought to ponder

Have I truly given my life over to Jesus or have I had a “New Year’s resolution” type of faith so far in life and build my house on sand?

Removing the plank from our own eye

Daily Readings: Genesis 19-20, Psalm 8, Matthew 7

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” –Matthew 7:1-5

I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely easy to see the speck of sawdust in the eyes of others! As a Christian in the marketplace, regardless of profession, it is extremely easy to recognize the shortcomings of others. “If they would only choose to _________, their life, career, relationships, etc. would be so much better!”

This is particularly easy when in a leadership role of any kind. It is so easy to throw your hands up in the air at points and say, “If the people I lead, students I teach, patients I care for, etc. would just do what I tell them to do, everything would be ok! Why can’t they just do it?!”

Jesus tells us to pay more attention to that massive plank in our own eye instead.

I know in my own leadership journey I have found that to be true over and over again. When my heart is in a posture of submission to God’s will in my life and I am constantly looking for areas of my life where my walk might be out of line with his will, life is so much easier! And, miraculously enough, it seems like folks I have the privilege of leading seem to grow the most during these times as well!

People will always follow your example more than your advice.

In addition, when I choose to ask myself, “How could I be a better leader, coach, friend to this person? Where am I falling short?” instead of, “What is wrong with them? How can they keep falling into the same habit pattern over and over again?” I am in a much better mindset to truly help them grow.

It starts by being willing to look in the mirror, observe the plank in our own eye, and focusing on aligning our heart with God before seeking to help, correct, or rebuke another.

There will never be a shortage of specks of sawdust in the eyes of others that we could easily point out. Jesus would prefer we remember that each and every day we probably have a new plank in our eye as well.

Thought to ponder

When have I recently been too focused on the speck of sawdust in the eye of another and not focused enough on the plank in my own eye?

Town on a hill

Daily Readings

Genesis 11-12, Psalm 6, Matthew 5

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:14-16

Today is the second day we focus on the Sermon on the Mount.

Would your friends, colleagues, and family say that you are a town set on a hill? A light that refuses to be placed in a basket? Challenging question.

In our world today it is so easy to fall into the habit of compartmentalizing our time. We have our Jesus time and then everything else. This doesn’t mean we don’t prioritize Jesus. We very well might actively volunteer in our church, engage in outreach activities, spend daily time in the word to further our own knowledge, devote time to prayer, etc. In these moments others might say, “There is a lamp that refuses to be placed under a bowl! There is an example of a Christian living out what it means to be a town on a hill!”

What about the rest of our time? Once we set the Bible down, leave church, pay for the lunch we just had with the new Christian we are mentoring, say our good byes at the organization we volunteer at, or utter our final amen; what happens then?

When you show back up at the office, hospital, school, or job site; would people still say, “There is a town set on a hill!” When you are teaching the next class, dealing with the next patient, making the next sales call, running the next meeting, or playing a game, making dinner, or doing chores with your children; do people see the love of Christ? Do they think to themselves, “Whatever they have, I want it! That person has a light shining and I want to know the source!”

It is so easy to have our Jesus time and then everything else. It is so easy to feel filled with the Holy Spirit when engaging in activities where “the Holy Spirit belongs”. It is incredibly natural to go into “job mode” when doing everything else.

Jesus challenges us to be a town set on a hill. He wants radical heart change to show up all day long and not just on the margins. The enemy wants us compartmentalized. He wants us so busy that we forget we are living for Christ.

The secret is, the rest of life is also more fun when living it for Christ! When we embrace Christ and allow him into every aspect of our lives and not just our designated Jesus time, peace and joy follow. It is not some terrible chore or arduous task living in step with Christ. Life is easier and more rewarding as a town set on the hill!

So today make the decision to let Jesus into 100% of your day. Be the city on the hill throughout. Refuse to put your lamp under a bowl when “normal life” commences. I think you will be excited by the results!

Thought to ponder

When in my life do I allow my light to be placed under a basket? How can I invite Christ into every facet of my life and not just my “Jesus time”?

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