Eyes on Jesus

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

There is something about returning our focus on Jesus that shifts our perspective. When we look at the problems we face, they seem to grow bigger. The longer we look at them the more insurmountable they can seem. Then, as our problems and conflicts seem to grow, our tendency to feel sorry for ourselves kicks in. The demonic spirit of self-pity comes to whisper believable lies into our ears.

Maybe you have experienced this downward cycle.

Yet, when we return our gaze to Jesus, everything begins to look different. When we look to Jesus we are reminded of His goodness and compassion. We are reminded of His love and power. We get away from self-pity and self-focus and remember that this life is about Him and not us. We consider Him instead of considering all of the obstacles and problems. We remember all that He endured and we stop feeling like a victim of our circumstances.

When my brother was in the hospital because of the tragic car accident that eventually took his life, I kept hearing the Lord tell me, “Eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus!” I imagine this is the same kind of thing a parent would say to their young child who was about to go into surgery. While the little boy would want to look at what the doctors were doing, the parent would be telling their son, “Look at me! Keep your eyes on me!”

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, our problems shrink down, our anxiety dissipates, our fears subside. Jesus is captivating, and even more so the longer we fix our eyes on Him. In Him is so much love and grace and kindness. We suddenly are able to love people and show grace in a way we previously couldn’t.

When we look at people, their imperfections and flaws start to grow big. We get irritated with every little thing they do. We want to address every little flaw and offense. But with our eyes on Jesus, we are able to overlook little flaws and offenses and focus on the issues the matter.

A person’s wisdom yields patience;
    it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11

The writer of Hebrews tells us that if we “consider Him” instead of just considering ourselves and our situation then we will actually be able to run our race with perseverance. We’ll be able to “not grow weary and lose heart.” When we keep our motivation and purpose fixed on Jesus, it gives us a kind of enduring strength that won’t quit. Paul said it this way:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

We sometimes think we need to focus on the problem to reap a harvest. But the counterintuitive truth of the Kingdom is that focusing our energy and affection on Jesus is what allows us to reap a harvest in due time. This is especially true in the church. Christians often spend a ton of time focusing on the church, sometimes to the point of losing our focus on Jesus.

If our focus is the church, we will find more and more reasons to get frustrated with the church. We will find every little flaw in the people of the church. We will be easily offended and irritated. We’ll discover that we become hyper-critical of the church. This will lead us to either leave the church or go on a performance-driven improvement plan for the church. Our focus is off.

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can love the church as the Bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church as a husband loves his bride. All change motivated by Jesus comes from a place of love, not performance-driven frustrations. When we focus on Jesus, we remember that the church is more than an organization or a business. We are a family on mission in the world. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. With eyes on Jesus, we remember that we are an imperfect community that serves at the pleasure of the King.

So, where is your focus? Who or what are you fixing your eyes on?

Consider Him.

One Thing I Do Know

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

John 9:24-25

Jesus spit on the ground, made mud, and put in on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man went and washed and came home seeing. People were astonished. The man’s neighbors couldn’t believe it. His own parents couldn’t believe it. But the Pharisees had the hardest time believing it.

The man told the Pharisees his testimony about Jesus but they were sure Jesus was not from God. So they asked the parents to confirm the story. Still in unbelief, they asked the man to explain his healing again.

What I love about the man’s second response is that he confesses his own lack of theological acumen. He is not a scribe. He is not a scholar. He can’t break down Torah law like a professor. All he knows is his testimony. He was blind and now he can see. And this is the heart of every follower of Jesus.

This is also why I love praying for people and leaning into the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. You can find me most Wednesday mornings praying for someone in an extended prayer session of two to three hours. My prayer partner and I do a lot of listening to the Holy Spirit during these prayer sessions. We try to follow His lead. We engage in the gifts of discerning the spirits, healing, prophecy, impartation and the like. We see the power of God move as we pray. It is truly an amazing and humbling experience.

But the best part is yet to come. The best part is the testimony emails that we get a few days later. When the Presence of God comes in power, people are changed. People are set free from demonic oppression. People are healed in their soul. People are healed in their bodies. People reconnect with the love of the Father and are forever changed.

If you want to read some of these awesome testimonies, we’ve collected some of them here. We received a recent testimony from a person we prayed for. They had felt anger and bitterness in their chest for a long time. This person wrote to tell us that on their drive home from work two days after our prayer session they realized that feeling was gone. God had lifted it off their chest and it wasn’t there anymore. Instead, the Lord had filled them with peace. Upon realizing this, the person broke down and wept tears of joy for the first time in their life. They described this experience as “wild.”

This is why we do what we do. This is why gifts of the Spirit are so vital to the Church and shouldn’t be abandoned just because we’ve seen them used poorly in the past. They are tools that were given to the Church to bring life-change.

What people often need is not a theological explanation of Jesus. They need an encounter with Him. They need to feel His Presence and be changed by it. They may walk away not having all their theology worked out, but their testimony will be the same as the blind man who was healed. “Whether Jesus is _________ or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was hurting and broken but now I‘m healed!

In Need

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Matthew 19:1-2

Everywhere Jesus went He healed. The Gospel writers record this truth in nearly every chapter of their writings. Jesus had large crowds following Him, listening to Him, and wanting to be physically healed. Healing was central to His mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. I talk more about this here.

If you haven’t seen The Chosen, you need to. It is a multi-season show about Jesus and the disciples that is done extremely well. (You can watch it for free in the app.) In a recent episode of The Chosen (Episode 3, Season 2), Jesus is depicted as spending all day healing the sick as His disciples take shifts helping Him. Jesus’s mom, Mary, stops by and talks about His birth. She talks about how Jesus was crying and cold.

Jesus needed Mary.

We like to say things like, “God doesn’t need us,” but in the life of Jesus we see multiple occasions where He put Himself in a place of need. His birth was just the first. It is true that Jesus didn’t have to do the incarnation that way. He could have chosen a way that didn’t involve putting Himself in a place of need. But He didn’t. And since Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), we get a sense that God the Father is okay with putting Himself in a position of dependence on others.

So it may be true that God doesn’t have to need us, but that must be held in tension with the reality that God wants to need us. Love chooses to be vulnerable even when it doesn’t have to be.

At the end of The Chosen episode mentioned earlier, Jesus comes into camp exhausted, sore, and dirty from a long day of healing others. He doesn’t say anything to the disciples except, “Good night.” The disciples had just been bickering and arguing and they are stunned and convicted by what they see in Jesus. Mary goes over to wash Jesus’s feet and help him get cleaned up before going to bed. Jesus gives her a kiss and says to her, “What would I do without you.”

And this is the point. Jesus would be fine without her but He chooses not to be. Jesus could have fed the 5000 by Himself but He turned to His disciples and said, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). Jesus could have kept healing the sick and spreading the gospel on His own, but He chose to send out the 12 and give them His authority.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

The same is true for us. God doesn’t need us. But God chose to need us. God wants us. He chose to heal the sick, care for the poor, and spread the gospel through us. We are the now the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. It matters if we obey. It matters if we do what He did. It matters if we follow Him.

Where might God be choosing to depend on you?

The Gospel of Triangulation

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:50-54

This wasn’t the first time that Peter tried to rescue Jesus from the cross. The first time was with words instead of a sword. Jesus asked the disciples who people said that He was. Then Jesus asked them who they thought He was, and Peter correctly stated, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” But when Jesus then went on to explain that He must suffer and be killed in Jerusalem, Peter said, “Never Lord…This shall never happen to you!” Famously, Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:13-23).

We can find ourselves making the same mistake as Peter, especially when we seek to help others. Jesus wasn’t just rejecting the temptation to abandon His mission for the sake of personal comfort. There is a human pattern that Jesus was rejecting. Jesus was refusing to be painted as the victim.

The unhealthy pattern that Jesus rejected (which often emerges in human relational dynamics) is called triangulation. This is where one person or group plays the victim, another person or group plays the bad guy, and the final piece of the triangle is the person or group playing the rescuer. We see this unhealthy pattern everywhere. We see it happen in marriages, in families, in organizations involved in social justice, and in politics.

Here’s how it works. Each player plays their role and uses that role to control one of the other players. The victim acts helpless and manipulates and guilts the rescuer into saving them from the bad guy. So the victim controls the rescuer. Indignant, the rescuer sets about to save the victim by controlling the bad guy. The bad guy, of course, is controlling the victim. You see this pattern all the time in human relationships.

Here’s what’s interesting. Not only is the victim controlling the rescuer, but the victim is also depending on the bad guy for their identity. Likewise, the bad guy is depending on the rescuer for their identity and the rescuer is depending on the victim for their identity. So everyone involved in the triangulation has unhealthy, codependent connections with the other players in this psychological game.

For instance, politicians make their party the victims, the other party the bad guys, and make themselves the rescuers. Social justice warriors make “those people” the bad guys, the group they want to rescue the victims, and themselves the rescuers. In unhealthy marriages, usually a pattern emerges where one person is the bad guy and another person is the perpetual victim. All they need now is a rescuer to sweep in and complete the triangulation. Once we are aware of this toxic pattern, we start to see it everywhere.

But Jesus rejected triangulation even when Peter kept offering it. Peter kept trying to paint Jesus as the victim, the chief priests and elders as the bad guys, and himself as the rescuer. It’s funny now to think of Peter trying to frame himself as Jesus’s rescuer. But this was part of satan’s temptation, both of Peter and of Jesus. This is partly why Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus could hear in Peter’s words the enemy’s offer of triangulation.

Jesus was not the victim. He could have called on His Father to send twelve legions of angels. Jesus, speaking about His own life, said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord“(John 10:18). Jesus was not a victim.

Likewise, Peter was definitely not Jesus’s rescuer. And hanging from the cross, Jesus would say of the bad guys, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus rejected triangulation all the way around.

This may be hard for some to believe, but Jesus also did not intend to recreate a new triangulation where He is the rescuer, we are the victims, and sin or satan is the bad guy. This unhealthy pattern requires that everyone stay in their role and no one gets healthy. If Jesus came simply to be our rescuer, we would have to remain the victims or the bad guys. Some churches preach a gospel that sounds very similar to this. But Jesus came to do so much more than that!

A real hero is not someone who rescues but someone who empowers!

Jesus didn’t just want to rescue us from sin and death (which He did), He also rose from the grave to give us new life. He empowered us to have victory over sin and death in our new life with Him. This is why we were given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We were empowered to live victorious rather than as perpetual victims or perpetual bad guys.

This means we must take responsibility for our life, our decisions, and the consequences of our decisions. We must take responsibility for our sin, the boundaries that we set, and the health of our relationships. Before we make someone else a bad guy, we must forgive them, just as we have been forgiven, and release grace to them. Forgiveness keeps us from falling into the trap of triangulation.

When we seek to help people, we need to be mindful not to view ourselves as the rescuer. When we slip into the rescuer role, we inevitably force someone else to be either the bad guy or the victim. While our intensions are good, we are unwittingly perpetuating a toxic pattern.

Instead, imitating Jesus, we need to help people by empowering them, not rescuing them. Rescuing people communicates that they are incapable of being anything other than a victim of their own life. Instead, empowering people tells them that they are fully capable of solving their own problems and being responsible for their own life.

Have you fallen into the trap of triangulation? Jesus rejected this toxic pattern and it’s time we do the same.

Temple Tax

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

“Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Matthew 17:24-27

We learn some things when Jesus was approached about giving the temple tax. This wasn’t a tax given to the Romans to fund the empire. This was an annual tax worth about two days wages that was meant for the upkeep of the temple. Every Jewish male twenty years of age and older was required to pay this tax. The religious establishment in Jerusalem was in charge of collecting it. The Pharisees and Sadducees were behind this tax.

Jesus, the Son of God, peppers Peter with questions about kings taxing their own sons. Jesus’s point here is that this tax was mean for the house of God, and if they had known that Jesus was the Son of God, they would have never required Him to pay this tax. Kings don’t tax their own sons.

Yet, Jesus says that He’ll pay the tax anyway. His reasoning for doing so was so that they wouldn’t “cause offense.” This is so interesting because, in other places in the Gospels, Jesus couldn’t care less about offending the Pharisees. We see one such scenario in Matthew 15:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Matthew 15:10-14

When it comes to speaking and teaching the truth, Jesus doesn’t mind offending the Pharisees. He even increases the offense by calling them “blind guides.” Yet, when it comes to something like paying a tax, it’s as if Jesus wants to avoid being offensive. There is a sense here that Jesus is more than willing to offend for the sake of God’s truth but isn’t interested in offending just for the sake of being spiteful. He’s not into offending for the sake of offending. There needs to be more purpose in it.

The church would do well to learn this lesson. Some churches are deathly afraid of offending anyone. Other churches think that it is a sign of spiritual maturity to perpetually offend everyone. Neither approach is healthy.

Finally, notice how God resources Jesus so that He could pay the tax for Himself and Peter. Peter didn’t go to the marketplace and sell something. Jesus chose a very peculiar and supernatural way of getting the resources of heaven. We are reminded, as we picture Peter pulling a valuable coin out of a fish’s mouth, that God often provides in unexpected and unusual ways.

God is not bound by our rules of supply and demand. God is not limited by our economic principles. All the resources of heaven are at God’s fingertips and He can release them however He chooses. The Kingdom of God doesn’t play by our rules. The Kingdom is not interested in our limitations. God, as a loving Father, hears about our rationalism and empiricism and laughs, as if to say, “Aw, isn’t that cute.”

When we ask God to be our Provider, we need to be ready for Him to surprise us with unexpected and supernatural sources of provision. It is important to crunch the numbers and try to be responsible, but we also need to remember that God is never limited by our spreadsheets and budgets. He is not limited by our cautious imaginations. God, the Creator, loves to provide for us, and He loves to do it in creative and interesting ways that we’d never expect.

Praying Together

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It is often said, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” But this statement is an extrapolation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which actually states, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” But this must be taken together with the above passage where Paul clearly states that he and his companions, “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired for life itself.

God does hold back temptation so that it is not beyond our capacity to resist. He also provides a way out. But life is not so kind. Life will throw stuff at us that feels beyond our ability to endure. But, as Paul recognizes, these are always opportunities to rely on God instead of relying on ourselves.

Paul remembers the times in the past when God delivered him from trouble, so Paul is able to trust in Him again. He also has a community of people praying for him. This seems to be a great encouragement to Paul as he faces such hardships.

Have you ever joined together with a number of people in praying for something and then got to rejoice together with them when God answered your collective prayer? It is such a powerful moment. And the passage of scripture above in the Greek calls that moment a “χάρισμα” (charisma).

We are used to seeing the Greek word “χάρισμα” (charisma) in 1 Corinthians 12 when Paul is listing the spiritual gifts. The word is usually translated “gift.” The word “χάρισμα” (charisma) combines the Greek word for grace, “χάρισ” (charis), with either the singular ending -μα (-ma) or the plural ending -ματα (-mata). The plural “χαρίσματα” (charismata) is where we get the term “charismatic.”

The full meaning of this word is more than just “gift.” The connotation is more like “grace-enablement,” or “grace-empowerment.” We could even translated it more literally as “gracelet.” Whereas the word “droplet” describes a small bit of liquid that comes from a larger source of liquid, the word “χάρισμα” (charisma) or “gracelet” describes a small bit of grace-enablement that comes from a larger source of grace. In other words, a “χάρισμα” (charisma) is a divine enablement of grace given by the Spirit. This is why we tend to call it a “spiritual gift.”

In the above passage, that moment where a group of people pray for something and see a miraculous intervention or a divine breakthrough as a result of their collective praying is called a “χάρισμα” (charisma). The English version above translates it “gracious favor.” Some translations translate it “gracious gift.” In other words, one of the “gifts of the Spirit” not listed in 1 Corinthians 12 is listed here. Many of us have experienced this spiritual gift but didn’t know it was a gift of the Spirit. It is the gift of having God’s grace poured out in a situation as a group of people agree together in prayer. And, as His grace is released, there is a breakthrough or an intervention that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The potential of this collective spiritual gift gave Paul encouragement and endurance as he faced trials and persecutions in his ministry. He set his hope on the Lord as he knew his churches were praying for him. There is real power in a group of people collectively agreeing together in prayer.

Blame

“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 7:3-5

We live in a culture that is obsessed with blame. Everyone seems to want to blame everyone else for their troubles. Each political party blames the other. Each race blames the other. Women blame men for all their issues. Men blame women for all of theirs. The church is to blame for my lack of faith. My parents are to blame for my messed up life. There is a lie embedded in our culture that goes like this, “Either I am to blame or you are.” Under the lie is this: “To accept blame would crush me. So in an act of self-protection I will blame everyone else for my life being this way.”

When we blame others, as if they are the problem, then we must do something to control them. If other people are in control of my well-being, if they are to blame, then I must perpetually make attempts to control other people in order to manage my life.

Our main tools of control are usually manipulation or force. I will have to try to use manipulation and deception to control others either through flattery or by playing the victim. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to use force either through violence or harsh words. These are the natural results of blaming others for the outcome of our life.

Can you see how unhealthy this is?

At the root of the lie is the falsehood that we have to blame someone. It is a false dichotomy that I either have to blame others or blame myself. The truth is that we neither have to blame others nor ourselves. We do have to own our own sin, failures, and poor decisions. But that doesn’t mean we have to carry the crushing weight of blame.

What if we embraced this novel idea: no one is to “blame.” We live in a broken world full of broken systems and broken people. Life is hard. Life is complicated. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Blame is the wrong word. Responsibility is the right word. We need to take responsibility for our actions, our own feelings, and our own lives. Jesus was clear with His disciples. We must look at the plank in our own eyes before we try to take the speck out of other eyes.

Paul said something similar about taking personal responsibility to the Galatians:

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

Galatians 6:4-5

We can’t control other people, and our attempts to do so damage relationships. We can only control ourselves. We are only responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We should communicate how the actions of others affect us. We should figure out what is happening in our own hearts and learn how to articulate that. But we need to stop trying to control people into compliance. And we begin to stop trying to control people when we stop blaming everyone around us for our situation.

When we start taking responsibility for our own life and stop blaming others, our relationships begin to flourish. We stop making other people responsible for our happiness, and we begin to realize that Jesus alone is our true source of life.

Unnatural Wind

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 

Matthew 14:32

Jesus had just multiplied the fish and the loaves and then sent his disciples ahead of him on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind and spent time with the Father. Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus walks out to them on the water. The wind was already blowing hard by the time Jesus walks out to them.

Once they realize it is Jesus, Peter tells Jesus to invite him out on the water, and Jesus does. Peter walks to him on the water for a few steps but then, seeing the wind, gets afraid. Jesus equates this fear with a lack of faith and escorts Peter back to the boat.

What I had never noticed before is that as soon as Peter and Jesus get in the boat, the wind dies down. If this was a natural storm, the wind wouldn’t just die down as soon as they step into the boat. We can’t know for sure, but this leads me to believe that the wind Peter was so afraid of was not natural. I believe it is possible that the wind was intentionally stirred up by the enemy in order to prevent the emergence of a boat full of faith-filled water-walkers.

I believe the enemy stirred up the wind to attack Peter’s faith (and anyone else who would dare step out in faith). I believe God allowed the wind as a test of Peter’s faith. The enemy was rooting against Peter, not wanting him to even attempt getting out of the boat. The Lord was rooting for Peter, wanting him to overcome his fear by faith.

This wouldn’t be the first time an unnatural wind came against Jesus and the disciples. A short time ago, Jesus was sleeping in the boat when a storm hits. The disciples freak out in fear. Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind the same way he had previously only spoken to demons. Notice the similarity between how Jesus casts the demon out of the man in the synagogue and how Jesus commands the storm to be quiet.

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him.

Mark 1:25-26

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Mark 4:39

The language used in both the deliverance and the calming of the storm is the same. Jesus rebukes both the demon and the wind. Jesus’s command is the same word, “Quiet!” I believe it’s possible that this indicates, when Jesus calms the storm, He was not just rebuking the wind but the demonic force behind the wind. He was commanding the enemy to stop using natural forces in ways that they shouldn’t be used.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that sometimes the storm is just a natural storm that we have to learn to navigate. But sometimes the storm is a targeted attack of the enemy meant to destroy your faith and keep you in the boat. Sometimes the enemy sends things at you that are meant to cause fear and keep you hunkered down. The last thing the enemy wants you to do is get out of the boat. And if you do get out of the boat, he doesn’t want you spending any time out there walking on water with Jesus.

The enemy will also sometimes reduce the wind as soon as you retreat to the boat. He wants you to feel safe and secure in that boat so that you never step out in faith again. We have to remember that when Jesus rebukes the wind, He’s enforcing the peace of the Kingdom. However, when the enemy reduces the wind, he’s just messing with your heart and mind. He’s trying to bring a false comfort, a false peace to lure you into passivity.

Don’t believe it. Jesus alone is the calmer of the storms.

So where do you need to get back out of the boat? Don’t let the fear from last time prevent you from stepping out again this time.

Not ashamed

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…

Romans 1:14-17

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. He was not ashamed of telling people about Jesus and about salvation. He was honored to get to be adopted into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was honored to have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling in him. Talking about the gospel was as natural to Paul as talking about his shoes or his elbow.

When we talk about Jesus to those who do not believe, we don’t need to be timid about it. Talking to others about Jesus is like talking to your kids about sex. If you are ashamed and awkward and embarrassed about it then you nonverbally communicate that this topic is shameful, awkward, and embarrassing. But if you talk about it as it truly is – a good gift, normal, natural, a blessing – then your nonverbals will communicate the same.

To Timothy, Paul’s protege, Paul wrote this at the end of his life:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 

2 Timothy 1:7-9

We’ve been given a Spirit of power. We’ve been given the gospel which is the power of God for all who believe. We’ve been given a Spirit of love. So we don’t need to be embarrassed or timid or ashamed of the testimony about Jesus. Even if we get ridiculed for it, we can endure such a small bit of suffering by the power of God. After all, we have been saved, rescued, restored, redeemed and made a new creation in Christ. We’ve been called to a holy life, not because we were worthy, but because of God’s own purpose and grace.

Who are we to remain silent about such a gift?

Parables

This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9-10]

Matthew 13:13-15

Doubt and unbelief are never an intellectual issue. Some of the most intelligent people on the planet, even some of the most well-respected scientists, have been followers of Jesus (for modern examples see John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins). Jesus makes clear, right after he tells the Parable of the Sower, that lack of understanding and lack of belief happen in the heart.

Notice the progression mentioned in Jesus’s quote from Isaiah. First, the heart becomes calloused. While the heart is not yet completely hardened, it is on its way. Usually this happens not because of an intellectual question about God but because of a wound of the heart. Someone hurts us or God doesn’t meet an expectation we had. A person stops trusting God because they had the wrong definition of trust in the first place.

Too often our hearts become calloused because we think trust is built by “someone doing what I expect they will do.” Meaning, to build trust we want a person to be predictable. We want the person to do what we would have done in particular situations. In other words, the more you are like me, the more you respond the way I would have responded, the more I trust you. This faulty understanding of trust means that any time another person does something I can’t anticipate, mistrust starts to grow.

You can see how destructive this understanding of trust would be to our relationship with God. When we expect Him to be just like us, and then He isn’t, we begin to lose trust in Him. When He doesn’t respond in a predictable way, a way that we wanted Him to, we begin to live in mistrust. God is completely perfect and good. He is worthy of absolute trust. But we’ve already started with the wrong understanding of trust.

Healthy trust is built on someone consistently telling us the truth not on someone being and acting predictably like us. God is wholly other than us. He will act in ways that surprise us and maybe even confuse us. But this is no reason not to trust God. Jesus is the Truth. He cannot be other than truthful with us. He is worthy of our trust.

Our wound of the heart, our mistrust, then leads to the next progression. We stop hearing. This is a more passive reality. Hearing God (and people for that matter) depends on listening and trust. When we have a wound in our heart, we stop trusting and we stop listening. Hearing God’s voice gets more and more difficult. Weeds of doubt and confusion start forming in our hearts. We are not actively plugging our ears, but hearing gets difficult until we repent of our distrust and get healing for the wound in our heart.

Eventually, after struggling to hear from God for a while, we shift into rebellion. That’s the next step in this progression of doubt and unbelief. While our struggle to hear was not intentional, the next step is intentional. We close our eyes. Closing our eyes is something we actively do. It’s not just that we struggle to see, it’s that we are now actively closing our eyes to the truth of God. We resist. We reject. We live in cynicism and skepticism. We choose unbelief. We close our eyes and proclaim that the room is dark.

This whole progression started with the heart, not the head. This is why Jesus spoke in parables. Parables aren’t meant to confuse the mind; they are meant to expose the condition of the heart. Those who have soft hearts, open hearts, are willing to trust the Lord. They will receive the seed of Kingdom truth planted in them. They will either understand the parable or it will lead to a curiosity that invites them into exploration. Lack of understanding for a person with a softened heart is an invitation into deeper intimacy as curiosity leads them to seek the Lord even more.

Calloused hearts, hardened hearts, will not understand the parables. Instead, they will likely be offended by them. It will not provoke curiosity but suspicion, mocking, and accusation. Lack of understanding for a person with a hard heart becomes mounting evidence that they were right to doubt. Lack of understanding exacerbates mistrust in the Lord. Cynicism abounds.

Jesus spoke in parables because they expose what is underneath our intellectual prowess and our religious actions. They expose the condition of our heart.