Praising God in the Storm

storm

A storm blew over my house last night.  Rain pitter-pattered against the windows.  Thunder shook the walls.  Lighting lit up the sky.  The storm induced fear in my son, who sleepily wandered into my room, whimpering.  He crawled into bed, safely snuggled between my husband and me, and went right to sleep.  The storm no longer rattled him while he was nestled between his parents.

We all experience storms in our lives.  Storms can steadily approach, or hit unexpectedly.  Storms shatter our reality, shake our confidence, induce fear, lead us to question.  How do you respond to the storms in your life?

How do we praise God in a storm?  When people die, marriages fail and diagnoses come, how do you praise God and not hate Him or get angry with Him?  These questions were submitted when my pastor invited our congregation to write down questions they would ask Jesus, after he answered the question “What would Jesus say to me?” on Easter Sunday.   Several questions were answered during a recent sermon, however, there were more questions than time.  This week, we are answering additional questions via four blogs:  Adventure Christian Church, Buddy Howard, Nick Burczyk and Heather Snider.

Psalm 77 provides insight on how to praise God in the storm.

Psalm 77 (NLT)

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of Asaph.

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.  Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. Interlude

You don’t let me sleep.  I am too distressed even to pray! I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever?  Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever?  Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious?  Has he slammed the door on his compassion? Interlude

10 And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” 11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. 12 They are constantly in my thoughts.  I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

13 O God, your ways are holy.  Is there any god as mighty as you? 14 You are the God of great wonders!  You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. 15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Interlude

16 When the Red Sea[a] saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled!  The sea quaked to its very depths. 17 The clouds poured down rain; the thunder rumbled in the sky.  Your arrows of lightning flashed. 18 Your thunder roared from the whirlwind; the lightning lit up the world!  The earth trembled and shook. 19 Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there! 20 You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Asaph, the author of Psalm 77, cries out to God.  He questions God… he wrestles with God.  Did you notice how he honestly presents his thoughts, feelings and emotions to God?  Verses 1-10 document his reaction to the storm.  But starting in verse 11, the tone changes.  Verse 11 ignites a thought transformation as Asaph writes:  But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.  They are constantly in my thoughts.  I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works (Psalm 77:11-12).  And Aspah lists God’s mighty works from the past:  His awesome power among the nations (v. 14), redeeming His people with His strong arm (v. 15), and God parting the Red Sea (vs. 16-20).

Asaph praises God in the midst of his storm.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to praise God in the storm too:  be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  Notice the verse says be thankful IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances.  Big difference.  Romans 1:21 helps us understand why it’s important to give thanks in all circumstances:  Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.  When we don’t worship God as God or give Him thanks, our minds become dark and confused and we start to come up with foolish ideas of what God is like.  Oh, how we need to cling to God’s Word in the midst of our storms so we can remember Who He really is!

So, how can you be thankful IN all circumstances… how can you praise God in the storm… so your mind doesn’t become dark and confused?  Follow Asaph’s example.  Honestly share your feelings and emotions with God.  And then, recall all He has done in the past.  Reflect on God’s unfailing love and faithfulness in your previous circumstances.  Praise Him for His faithfulness in the past, and trust Him to be faithful in the present and future.  Ask God to show you how He is providing for you in your storm.  Read Psalm 139 and meditate on how you are never out of God’s sight.

Another way to praise God in the midst of storms is to establish a daily habit of giving thanks.  Write down three to five things you are thankful for each day, and watch how you start to recognize the little blessings that fill your day.  And when the storm hits, you can recall all God has done by reading through your thankful list.  Check out Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare or The Thankfulness Experiment for more information on the daily practice of giving thanks.

Storms will come… Jesus said so Himself in John 16:33:  I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  When storms hit us, we get to choose… to trust God or doubt God.  Oh, that we would choose trust because Romans 15:13 shows us the amazing benefits of trusting God… joy and peace:  I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Need a few songs to help you praise God in the storm?  I AM by David Crowder reminds us that God is holding onto us in the middle of the storm. Praise You in This Storm by Casting Crowns encourages us to listen for God’s still, small voice in the midst of our storms.  No matter what storm we’re facing, we can cling to Psalm 34:18 : The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Will you run into the presence of your Heavenly Father when a storm rises up?  Will you find shelter under the shadow of God’s wings, much like my son found shelter between his mommy and daddy, while the storm is raging?  Will you cry out like David did in Psalm 57:1: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by?  God is waiting for you to come

 © 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Worth Dying For

you were worth dying for

You were worth dying for… Love Jesus.  This image came through my Facebook News Feed on Good Friday, and it brought me such joy!  I know what a mess I can be… I know what a sinner I am… and yet, in the midst of all my messes and sins, Jesus values me!  And not only does He value me, He thinks I’m worth dying for.  And Jesus thinks you’re worth dying for too.

I wonder what thoughts swirl through your head after reading “You were worth dying for”? Maybe you don’t FEEL like you are worth dying for.  Maybe you doubt that anyone could love you that much because you’ve never experienced that kind of love before.  Maybe you think that if Jesus REALLY knew you, He would NEVER die for you.  Or maybe, you think others are worth dying for, just not you.

There’s no better place to go than the Bible to see if your thoughts and feelings align with God’s Truth.  Let’s take a peek at Jesus in action as He encounters an adulterous woman.  Watch how Jesus responds to the woman and her accusers.  As you read, think about whether Jesus thought the adulterous woman was worth dying for.

John 8:1-11 (NLT)

A Woman Caught in Adultery

8 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Leviticus 20:10 (NLT) states “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.”  And yet Jesus offered this woman grace.  Instead of condemning her, He told her to go and sin no more.  Can you imagine what this woman felt as she walked away from Jesus?  She thought she was going to die… yet she received new life.

Jesus loved the adulterous woman.  He showed her compassion, grace, and mercy.  She sinned.  She was caught red-handed, yet Jesus treated her as valuable.  Jesus would die on the cross for her sin… and even though her sin would nail Him to the cross, He loved her… forgave her… and encouraged her to let this encounter with Him change the path of her life forever.

Jesus loves you like this.  Jesus loves me like this.  But do we even grasp it?  Do we even begin to understand the magnitude of Jesus’ love for us?  Isaiah 53:3-11 shows just how much Jesus loves us.

Isaiah 53:3-11 (NLT)

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.  He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.  And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away.[b] No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream.[c] But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.  But he was buried like a criminal;  he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

Do you see how much Jesus loves you?  Read through this passage again and personalize it by plugging in your name for “we,” “our,” “people” and “their.”

Jesus loved you so much that He was beaten, crushed, rejected, pierced, mocked, abandoned… for “that” sin in your life.  The sin that brings you shame… Jesus died for “that” sin.  The hidden sin that you don’t want anyone else to know about… He died for “that” sin too.  Jesus died for ALL sins.  And Jesus invites you to approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace.  And you know why we can approach the throne of grace with confidence?  Because if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1b-2).  Can you get your mind around this great news?  Jesus not only died for our sins, but He also advocates for us when we sin!  And 1 John 1:9 gives us more confidence:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Are you willing to approach the throne of grace with confidence today?  Let Jesus’ extravagant love pierce through the walls of your heart.  Let His love remove any masks that you wear.  Unwrap His free gift of grace that is available because of His death.  (Learn more about the free gift of grace here.)  And choose to believe that you… yes, you… were worth dying for.  Oh, how He loves us!

© 2014

Invitation 101

come follow me 2

My son recently celebrated his birthday with an Olympic-themed party and he couldn’t wait to hand out his invitations.  Some invitations were mailed and others were hand delivered to his friends at school.  He was delighted to share the good news of his party with others.  We weren’t surprised that some friends said no to his invitation.  Those that attended had fun playing Olympic themed games and eating his Krispy Kreme Olympic Ring cake.

Have you ever considered how we get excited about inviting people to parties, or over for dinner, or to hang out with us, but we get intimidated about inviting people to church?  Can you imagine inviting someone to church with the same enthusiasm my son had when inviting people to his birthday party?  The Bible provides us with some Invitation 101 tips that can help turn our invitation intimidation into enthusiasm.  And Jesus Himself provides the example we can follow.

In Matthew 4:18-20 (NLT), we witness Jesus inviting Simon and Andrew to become His disciples:
18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
How did Jesus invite these two men to be his disciples?  Three simple words:  Come, follow me.  And how did Simon Peter and Andrew respond?  They left their nets at once and followed Jesus.

We see Jesus using this same, simple approach with Philip in John 1:43-44 (NLT).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

Any guesses about what happens next?  You might be surprised… Philip extends an invitation to Nathaniel.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied. John 1:45-46

How did Philip invite Nathanael to meet Jesus?  Five simple words… Come and see for yourself.  And Nathanael came.  He was skeptical.  He didn’t believe anything good could come out of Nazareth.  But that didn’t stop Nathanael from checking out this Jesus for himself. (Check out the rest of the story here.)

Did you know that Jesus didn’t have a 100% success rate with his personal invitations? Yep, not everyone Jesus invited to follow Him said yes.  The story of the Rich Young Ruler is told in three of the four Gospels (MatthewMark, and Luke).  Jesus invited this young man to come and follow Him after he sold his possessions and gave the profits to the poor.  (Jesus used the same, simple approach:  Come, follow me).  How did the young man respond to Jesus’ invitation?  At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:22)  Notice that Jesus was willing to invite, regardless of the response.

Jesus invited.  Philip invited.  The invitations were simple:  Come…  The invitations were presented without pressure… without a list of reasons why the invitation should be accepted…  without expectation of a specific answer.  Each person received a simple invitation… that’s all.  Isn’t it amazing how simple inviting someone to church can be?

So… how can you apply Jesus’ Invitation 101 approach with your family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances… even strangers… in the weeks leading up to Easter?  Use the same simple invitation approach that Jesus and Philip used:  Come to our Good Friday Service.  Come to one of our Easter services.  Come and see for yourself what Jesus did for you.

Are you willing to give Invitation 101 a try?  Think of two people you can invite to Easter.  Pray and ask God to give you the courage to invite them.  And then do some inviting!

Let’s get excited about inviting others to experience the Good News of Easter.  Let’s adopt the enthusiasm my son had when inviting friends and family to his birthday party.  Because once we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, how can we not invite others to come and see for themselves?

© 2014