Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

The Alpha and the Omega

stroke-of-midnight“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).

One year comes to a close and another year dawns.  What did the year hold for you?  The media love to give recaps of the previous year, who did this, who said that, who got married (and divorced).  Who gave birth and who died?  What was the top movie of the year?  Who was the best (and worst) dressed? What sports team won it all?  Likewise we often take personal stock of the year – how we faired financially and in our relationships, what big life events occurred in the past twelve months and how it went in our jobs.  When I did my own year-in-review I could sum it all up in one word: surprise!  This year was full of the unexpected as my family made a major move; after nearly 20 years in Florida, we end the year back in our home state of Alabama.  God led us to a great place to live and a wonderful church home.  The blessings of our new home also meant saying goodbye to dear and precious people and ministries that I loved.  Life often offers us a little bitter with the sweet.  We sit on the cusp of the New Year with a sense of excitement as we look ahead to what God will do.

The thought always strikes me at the end of each year: I had no clue on January 1 what the year would hold, but God knew everything thing that would occur in the next 365 days.  And as the next year begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  He knows every joy and sorrow, every good thing and every not-so-good thing.  He knows the people that I will meet, and the places this year will take me.   He knows the words I will write on this blog and every person who will read them.  And He knows the mistakes I will make and how He will work them together in my life to accomplish His good plan and purpose for me.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.

If you are not familiar with those words, Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end—much as we say “from A to Z.”  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Because He is the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus knows what the year will hold; He sees the beginning of the year and the end and everything in between.   He is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is eternal, He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11).

Jesus is the Beginning and the End of the universe.  He is the origin of the heavens and the earth and all life—including human beings (Genesis 1-2).    He called the light to dawn (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He created the universe and will bring it to a close (Revelation 21:1).  He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

Jesus is the First and the Last in power and authority over all existence.  He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). He is exalted to the highest place, His name is above every name; the day is soon coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-10)!

These are high and exalted expressions of Jesus, yet He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life and mine.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you sip your coffee in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and at every hour in between; He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what the coming year will bring, what adventures and challenges, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.[1]

Precious Lord Jesus, another year ends and a new one begins, I can’t imagine what the next year holds, but I will walk into it holding Your hand and trusting you every day.  Amen.

[1] I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, February 14, 1914—December 30, 1993

My Past is not My Future Anymore

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I’ve been reading recently through the genealogical records of 1 Chronicles of the sons of Israel. I know, that’s pretty dry stuff – who begat who and thus-and-so is the son of so-and-so. Most people I know who try to read through the Bible end up skipping the first 9 chapters of this book. But I’ve read the Bible enough times to begin to pick out some names I’ve run across before and to see things I’ve never noticed in these passages.

Stick with me for a little Bible study lesson before we get to the application.

Genealogy is very important in the eastern cultures, even today. This is very different from the western culture with our sense of independence. While there is inheritance and some businesses that are passed down through generations, the west does not value the generation interconnectedness of the east. Land rights, position and particularly religious authority are traced back many, many generations. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem 70 years after the Babylonian captivity, genealogical records ensured the rights of property and position. This was especially important for the Levites – or descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, the temple servants who were assigned their position and work by these records. If a Levite could not prove by the genealogical record that they had rights to a position in the temple, they were not permitted to serve.

Each one of Jacob/Israel’s sons is listed along with the list of many of his descendants up to the fall of Jerusalem.   As I read through these names I saw a trend emerge. Much like the Levites, many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.   One that caught my attention was the line of Issachar, another of Jacob’s sons. If you have the time and inclination, read the 2nd chapter of Numbers where the tribes of Israel are arranged around the tabernacle in their camp and in their order of travel. Judah was the royal tribe and they were “front and center” in the arrangement. They were edged by the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, who were charged with protecting the royal tribe, from which King David and King Jesus would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. For all the years of wilderness wandering and awaiting their settlement in the Promised Land, Issachar and Zebulun stood watch over Judah. The genealogical listing in 1 Chronicles highlights “the mighty men of valor” and the number of “men ready for battle” in the record of Issachar (1 Ch. 7:4-5). 1 Chronicles 12:33 says 50,000 “of the sons of Zebulun” were in David’s mighty army. Here’s the point: the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun were still faithful to their God-given charge more than 900 years after it was first issued. Almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons were at their post, protecting the king.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues on through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham, and his many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries and leaders in ministry. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe you don’t have a lineage of preachers and missionaries and godly prayer warriors. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit, and more than a few nuts. I remember hearing my grandmother talking about her grandfather who was a cattle rustler, and a brother who spent more time in jail than at home. Maybe your family has a sinful “legacy” like mine does, and you can trace, not the influence of God, but that of evil through your family. Does that mean that you are destined to follow your family’s path? Not if God has anything to say about it.

Our key verse is a promise that when we come to Christ, we have a whole new story, all our own yet to be written by “the Author of our faith,” Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Your past and your family’s past are no longer the story of your life. If you are in Christ you are “a new creation,” and what you will become is up to God not your past, your parents, grandparents or anyone else. For many years I fell victim to the sinful thread that ran through my family. It was “my destiny,” like those before me. But God said “NO.” Just as He did for so many before me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me (Hebrews 11). This is the heritage I stand on today. This is the history of my family: godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was and what my “destiny” is, I tell him that I am God’s daughter and my future is secure in Christ, and his destiny is destruction.

Dear friend, don’t stand back believing the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

Holy Father, thank you for giving me a new life, a new name, and a new destiny. Thank you for the new lineage of godliness that is mine as Your child. Give me courage to walk forward and leave the past behind me. Amen.