If it’s You…

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Matthew 14:26-29

The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus at first. They saw something miraculous happening, a man walking on water, but they weren’t sure it was from the Lord. They weren’t sure it was Jesus. At first, they thought it might be a ghost.

Jesus reassures them that it is, in fact, Him. But they still aren’t convinced. They feel like they need some kind of proof that it’s Jesus. Peter starts with, “Lord, if it’s you…” Peter wants verification that the miraculous thing they are witnessing is Jesus and not something else.

Peter reasons that if it is really Jesus, he would be able to come to Jesus on the water. In other words, Jesus kept empowering His disciples to do what He was doing. So it makes sense that if Jesus is the one walking on water, He could also empower His disciples to do it. But if it’s just a ghost, then Peter would never be able to walk on the water.

Jesus agrees.

Jesus invites Peter to come to Him on the water. This is Jesus’s evidence that it is, in fact, Him. The disciples could have just taken Jesus at His word. But if they want evidence that Jesus is the one doing the miracle, they’ll have to take a risk and step out in faith.

All of this still applies today. So many people see a miraculous thing and wonder if it’s really Jesus. Even after Jesus shows up in miraculous ways, people still doubt it is Him. They don’t take Him at His word, so they ask for evidence. Yet, the only evidence that Jesus is willing to give comes after a step of faith. He essentially says, “Believe what I am saying is true, take a risk to try it yourself, and then you will know it is me.”

This isn’t exactly the scientific method we western Christians are used to. We wrongly assume proof will come before faith. Jesus says that it doesn’t work that way in the Kingdom. If you want proof, Jesus is glad to give it. But it will only come after a step of faith.

We say we’ll come to Him on the water if He proves to us that it is Him. He says you’ll only know it’s me after you come to me on the water. We ask Jesus to bow down to our doubts to help us believe. He refuses. He tells us to have our doubts bow down to Him in order for our faith to arise.

We actually shouldn’t be surprised by this. This is exactly what God did with Moses. God showed up to Moses in a burning bush in order to send him to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. But Moses doubted that he was the man for the job. Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?“(Exodus 3:11).

Notice how God responds.

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Exodus 3:12

Did you get that? The sign that it is God who sent Moses is that, once all the people of Israel are out of Egypt, they will worship God on that mountain. In other words, the evidence that it is, in fact, God sending Moses will only come after Moses listens to God and takes the risk to obey. We want the sign to be before we obey. God says that He’ll confirm His word with evidence but only after we obey, only after we take that step of faith.

Have you ever prayed that prayer that starts with, “God, if it’s really you….” I know I have! But we have to understand what comes next. God is okay with us asking this question, but don’t be surprised when God’s evidence that it is really Him comes after a step of faith, after an obedient action, after a risk. We so often want to obey out of certainty rather than from a place of faith.

I have found in my own life that God has given me proof after proof, evidence after evidence that it is Him! But this evidence came after I was willing to get out of the boat and take a risk to believe.

Where is God calling you to take that risk, that step of faith?

Terrified

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Luke 2:9

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:41

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

Matthew 14:26

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.

Matthew 17:5-6

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Matthew 27:54

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid…”

Revelation 1:17

Angels show up to announce Jesus’s birth and the shepherds are terrified. Jesus calms the storm and the disciples are terrified. The disciples see Jesus walking on the lake and are terrified. Jesus gets transfigured on the mountain, the Father shows up and speaks words of love and affirmation over Him, and the disciples fall down terrified. Jesus dies on the cross, the ground shakes, and the guards are terrified. John sees the glorified Jesus show up to him in a vision, and John is so afraid that he falls down as though dead.

People who say that the Lord would never act in a way that would scare people must have never read their Bible. Over and over again, Jesus does things that absolutely terrify people. American Christians have so often made Jesus out to be a tame, passive, stoic teacher. The real Jesus was way more unpredictable than that. He often left people shaking in their boots!

Today, sometimes the Holy Spirit moves in a way that people don’t understand. And when people don’t understand something, they are often afraid of it. Fear causes people to reject all kinds of good things. Fear is often the wall that prevents people from having a radical encounter with the Lord. Then, in order to compensate for their fear, they rationalize that it can’t really be God. He would never do something that would scare people.

Really?

Go read those passages of scripture above and tell me with a straight face that God would never do something that would scare people. He did it all the time. He does it all the time.

Don’t let fear of not understanding the movement of the Holy Spirit keep you from an encounter with the Holy Spirit!

What are you scared of when it comes to the Holy Spirit?

Vampire Christians

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…

Matthew 14:22-23

Jesus Himself believed it was essential to get alone to spend time with the Father. Jesus intentionally dismissed the crowd and sent His disciples ahead of him to the other side of the lake. He then went alone up the side of a 3000 foot elevation around the Sea of Galilee and spent time praying.

Jesus wasn’t praying because He was checking some religious box. Jesus was perfect. Jesus never sinned. He wasn’t praying to show people how spiritual He was. He just wanted to be with His Father. He longed for the intimacy and nearness that only time alone with the Father can bring.

Jesus said that He only does “what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does“(John 5:19). He accomplished this by staying in constant communion with the Father through prayer. While Jesus “prayed continuously” as He walked through life, He also sought alone time with God where no one else was around. He got alone in order to listen to the Father as much as to talk to the Father.

With packed schedules, hurried and harried lives, many Christians are not spending alone time with God. I believe this has resulted in so much of the dysfunction in the lives of Christians and the Church. How can we expect to be shaped into the image of Christ if we are not spending daily alone time with Him? How can we expect to love the unlovable if we are not daily receiving love from the Father? How can we expect to forgive those who’ve hurt us if we are not daily reminded of the forgiveness we’ve received from Jesus?

I believe that many Christians look for programs in the local church to fill in for their lack of one-on-one time with the Lord. They want once-a-week worship services to build in them intimacy with God without ever spending alone time with Him. They want once-a-week bible studies to help them grow spiritually without having to dig into the word of God on their own. They want people praying for them but never spend time praying alone themselves. Then they wonder why they can’t seem to find a “good church” or a church that “fits them.”

The local church will never be able to give us what only time alone with the Lord gives us. It was never meant to. We have it backwards. Christians were meant to fuel up in their alone time with the Lord–worshiping, studying scripture, and praying–so that they could enter Christian community with something to give to others when they are there. Church was never meant to be a consumeristic place that meets all of our spiritual needs. American churches have too many vampire Christians who suck the life out of the community because they never receive from God the other six days a week in alone time with Him.

Spending daily time with the Lord is not a sign of super-spirituality. It’s one of the very basic, foundational things every Christian should be doing. It is an admission of our weakness, our daily need for God. It’s a posture of humility, knowing we can’t live the life we are called to live without spending regular time with the Father.

The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit can’t wait to spend time with you every single day. They love time alone with you. It’s one of their favorite things in the world. They treasure it. They can’t wait to be with you…if only you’d set aside a little time for them.

Are you spending alone time with the Lord? Or have you become a vampire Christian?

You Do It

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. 

Matthew 14:15-18

This encounter between Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd is so important for every follower of Jesus to understand. The crowds had a legitimate need. The disciples did what we would do. They asked Jesus to do something about it. They even suggested what Jesus should do (send the crowds away so they could get food).

What do we call this today, when we go to Jesus with a request on behalf of other people? We call it prayer. Specifically, we call it petitioning prayer.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Yes, but we are also supposed to listen in prayer for His response. And we shouldn’t be surprised when the response Jesus gives us is, “You do it.”

Jesus tells His disciples to give the crowd something to eat, and their response is often our response. They felt inadequate. They reasoned with Jesus that they didn’t have enough to accomplish the task. They didn’t have what it takes. Don’t we do the same?

“But Jesus, that’s impossible for me to do!” “But Jesus, I don’t have enough money, talent, gifting, resources, people, help,…..etc.”

Jesus didn’t agree with His disciples. And when we give this kind of response He doesn’t agree with us either.

Jesus then says, “Bring them here to me“(Matthew 14:18).

Whatever it is that you have, bring it to Jesus. Hand it to Him. Does it feel too small, too weak, too insignificant? That’s okay. Give it to Jesus. Put it in His hands and watch what happens.

He’ll give it right back to you and say to you again, “You do it.” And as you are obedient, everything that didn’t feel like it was enough will multiply in your own hands as you give it away.

“Jesus, heal this person!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, change this situation!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, help those people!” … “You do it.”

“Jesus, they need freedom!” … “You do it.”

You give them something to eat. But first things first, hand it to Jesus. Put everything you have in His hands. Give it all to Him and watch what happens.

The Heart of Jesus

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:13-14

This gives us great insight into the heart of Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he tried to get alone. What happened? John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin and the greatest of Old Testament prophets, was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch. And it wasn’t even a noble death.

John called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife and got thrown into prison. Then Herod made a drunken oath to give his step-daughter half of his kingdom. At the prompting of her bitter mother, she asks for John’s head on a platter. It was an unceremonious and brutal death.

John the Baptist was a friend and a herald of Jesus. He was a fellow prophet calling people to repentance and declaring the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew all too well that if they were willing to so flippantly kill John, He would be next.

So Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to grieve. He was grieving the loss of a friend and fellow companion in ministry. He was grieving the death of the greatest of Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:11). He was grieving the death of a family member. And He was grieving His own future, knowing it will look similar to John’s.

The crowds didn’t seem to honor Jesus’s need to be alone and process John’s death. As soon as Jesus came ashore He saw that the crowds followed Him around the Sea of Galilee on foot. They were all clamoring to have their needs met, not once thinking about what Jesus needed in that moment. The crowds weren’t there to comfort Jesus. They were there to be ministered to by Jesus.

What would your response be in this moment if you were Jesus?

It’s in this moment that we see the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Heavenly Father. When Jesus saw the large crowd, scripture says “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus was still loving other people even as He grieved.

If we’re not careful, grief can pull us into a selfish spiral of self-pity. While grieving is healthy and necessary, there can be a great temptation in grief to become self-absorbed. But not for Jesus. He still was compassionate. He still chose to heal all who needed healing.

This is the Jesus we serve and love. This is the Jesus to whom we surrender all. Jesus wants to spend time with us. He wants to be near to us. He has limitless compassion for us and what we’re experiencing. He’s the perfect representation of God the Father’s heart toward us.

God is not put out by you. You don’t exhaust Him. He’s not irritated with you. You don’t bother Him. He loves you. And nothing you do will ever change that.

Offensive Miracles

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 13:53-58

When there is a lack of faith, people are easily offended. We see this in our own culture. People seem to be offended by everything. People in our culture wear their offense like a badge of honor. So many people, even Christians, live their lives perpetually offended.

The people of Nazareth were offended that Jesus, someone they knew, had incredible wisdom and operated in the miraculous. They couldn’t understand how someone from such a common family could be a prophet. They couldn’t understand how a carpenter’s son could become such a wise Rabbi. It didn’t make sense to them that God would do miracles through such a lowly man. They saw Jesus grow up, after all. How could God use Him? And because it didn’t line up with their understanding and expectations, they took offense. People today do the same thing.

In particular, people get offended by healing for a variety of reasons. They get offended that some people get miraculously healed and others don’t. They especially get offended at the mention of the need for healing. To say a person needs healing means that something is broken. But there is so much fear and insecurity around admitting that something is broken.

We live in a culture where everyone wants to be told that nothing in them is broken. No one wants to admit that their spirit is broken and they need a Savior. No one wants to admit that their heart is broken and they need inner healing and deliverance. No one wants to admit that their body or brain or sexuality is not functioning the way God intended, and that it needs healing. We’re afraid that if we say this about our loved ones they won’t feel “normal.”

But instead of admitting that none of us is “normal,” we’ve decided to call everything normal. We wrongly assume that if we call everything normative then everyone will feel included and loved. But the people who live with brokenness know deep down that something is wrong. I know because we all have brokenness.

So we walk around knowing deep down that something is wrong, and yet we have everyone telling us that everything is fine. We’re told that the disfunction in our body, mind, or spirit is “normal.” Sometimes we’re even told the it’s good! But the deepest parts of us knows better. This creates a cognitive dissonance that is damaging.

We’d do better to communicate the biblical message that we’re all broken, we all need healing, and we all need a savior. The admission of the need for spiritual, emotional, and physical healing should be what is “normative.” For a person to assume that they don’t need healing should not be a mark of superiority but a sign of prideful ignorance. What should be offensive is the person who says they don’t need healing, not the person who suggests the need for healing.

Yes, we love everyone just as they are. We communicate that God loves them unconditionally even if their situation never changes. We help them encounter the absolutely overwhelming love of the Father for them. But His unending love for us–just as we are–does not change our need for healing. God is the one who wants us healed more than anyone else!

Jesus healed every person who came to Him for healing. He never turned anyone away. He never decided that someone should just stay in their condition so that they can know they are loved just the way they are. He healed every single person that came to Him.

Does that means Jesus didn’t love them until after they were healed? Absolutely not! Jesus loved them unconditionally before they were healed. Then, as a demonstration of His unconditional love, Jesus healed them. And He loved them unconditionally after they were healed. Their need for healing didn’t impact Jesus’s love for them in any way. Healing was simply a tangible demonstration of His love.

As followers of Jesus, we can decide to be offended by healing and miracles (like the people of Jesus’s hometown) or we can decide to embrace healing. We all need healing. And as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, we’ve been sent as His ambassadors to release physical healing to people. We’ve been sent to release inner healing and freedom to people. We’ve been sent to proclaim the gospel, the only thing that brings our dead spirit to life.

Are you offended by healing? Are you offended by the need for healing?

Leave Everything Behind

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

Just when we wonder what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus helps us see a clearer picture with parable after parable describing the Kingdom.

In this case, what we learn is that the Kingdom of God is so valuable, such a treasure, that the only proper response to finding the Kingdom is to abandon one’s old life and give up everything in pursuit of it. This extreme devotion and sacrifice is seen as “over the top” in our American, pacified Christianity.

Yet, these men in these parables didn’t think it was extreme at all. The first man was getting more than he gave up by selling all he had and buying that field. That field contained treasure worth many times more than all he had. Instead of seeing it as extreme, we could see it simply as a wise investment.

To give up everything one has in order to get a hundred times what one has is not extreme; it’s wisdom. It would be foolish to do otherwise. It would be foolish and irresponsible to leave that treasure sitting in a field because he was too scared to sell all he had and purchase the field.

The second parable reiterates this same point. This was a merchant who understood business. He understood the pearl industry. He knew a valuable pearl when he saw one. When he saw the price tag on that valuable pearl, he knew it would require him to sell all that he had in order to buy it. But, being the savvy businessman that he was, he also knew the pearl was worth a hundred times what was on the price tag. This was not “extreme” or “radical” or “crazy.” This was a sound investment. This was the only sensible thing to do.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like! The only sensible thing to do once we encounter the Kingdom is to abandon everything in our old life and pay any price in order to be in it. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to enter the Kingdom. And so when we give up everything to follow Him, there is nothing “radical” or “extreme” about it. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

When people leave behind their pride and reputation to be outspoken about Jesus, it’s not extreme. It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people cry out in worship for what God has saved them from, it’s not “over-the-top.” It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people give up everything for Jesus, (including sexual preferences, job promotions, their good reputation, addictions, the American dream, the ways of the world, physical security, etc ) they aren’t being radical. They are simply treating the Kingdom as the treasure that it really is.

The rest of us, who aren’t willing to give up what’s comfortable for the treasure right in front of us, we are the ones who are acting foolish. We, with our “respectable” Christianity, have made a poor investment, holding on to our childhood allowance because we’re afraid to lay hold of the riches of our true inheritance.

The next time someone seems too “crazy” or “radical” in their Christian faith, it might be good for us to remember how Jesus described the Kingdom in these parables.