Immediately Jesus

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

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

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

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:25-32 (NIV)

One of the aspects of studying Scripture I find fascinating is how, no matter how many times you read a particular passage, God reveals something new through His Word.  It never gets stale.  You can apply the lessons of the Bible in so many places, so many ways…

With everything going on these days, this passage from Matthew practically leapt out at me.  The first word that came to mind: focus.  To set the scene, the disciples have just participated in Jesus’ amazing feeding of the five thousand (which was probably more like 15,000, since only the men were counted – not the women and children).  Once this was done, Jesus immediately sent the disciples away on boat (Matthew 14:22).

Why immediately?

Perhaps, like us, His disciples had a tendency to forget the miraculous whenever things got tough.  The troubles of life – and the anxieties and worries these problems bring – are like driving past the scene of an accident.  We can’t help but gawk at the tragedy.

So, while the memories of seeing thousands of people fed with a mere five small loaves of bread and two small fish, of picking up leftovers from this feast, were still fresh in their minds, Jesus – knowing of the impending storm – sent the disciples off by boat immediately.

Immediately.

The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee.  The winds are strong, the storm raging.

And they see an apparition – a ghost out on the choppy waters.

And they are freaked out.  Wouldn’t you be?

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

Immediately.

Peter – you gotta love the apostle Peter and how much he loved Jesus – wants so badly for this to really be Jesus that he asks Him, “If you really are Jesus, tell me to walk to you on the water.”  And when Jesus says “come”, Peter jumps out of the boat and goes.

He’s walking on water.  Not just water, a stormy surging lake!  Peter is focused on Christ, and he is walking on water.

But then, shifting his gaze from the Savior to the storm, Peter suddenly realizes he’s walking on water in the midst of a storm.  Fear sets in as he begins to drown.  He cries out for the Lord to save him.

And immediately Jesus grabbed Peter and saved him.

Immediately.

There’s a lot going on these days, a lot of bad – scary – things to grab our attention.  We can easily get caught up in the news and the doom and the gloom.  The situation is rough.  Downright stormy.

And we’re all out in the middle of it, in one way or another.

But look carefully in the storm.  God is there.  He’s never left us.  He hasn’t changed.  He still loves us.  He wants us to walk to Him.  He wants us to keep our focus on Him.  Not what we hear on the news.  Not the turmoil the world is going through right now.

The Lord wants us to step out in faith, knowing He has us in His grip.  Trusting that, if we do find ourselves overwhelmed by the storm, all we need to do is cry out to Jesus to save us.

And He will.

Immediately.

Understanding Beyond…

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonablenessd be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learnede and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

The peace that surpasses all understanding.  A peace of heart beyond our grasp, beyond what makes sense to us.  This is what Jesus offers those who trust in Him.  It is peace that doesn’t rely on circumstances.  Instead, even – especially – in times of trouble, with Jesus we have peace.  We find rest.  We know He is with us through times of uncertainty and anxiety.

Tonight, trust in God.  Rest in His peace.  Let the above passage soak into your soul.  Don’t mull over the troubles we face today but meditate on His Word and the Greatest Truth of God, our Creator and Sustainer.

Sleep well dear friends.  Let God’s love fill you, knowing everything is in the Lord’s hands.

Pinto Beans, Collard Greens and COVID-19

Last night’s family excursion to a nearby Super Duper Bigley Mart was interesting.  The store wasn’t overly busy – certainly not packed.  The mood was calm – not so much peaceful as subdued.  There were no shoppers brawling over the last jar of creamy Jif.

However, at 8:30 on a Saturday night, there wasn’t much on the shelves to fight over.  The bread selection was sparse.  The flour was gone, except for the oddball varieties like quinoa flour that cost $7.00 per 8 ounce package.  Hamburger, hot dogs (except for a few packs of Nathan’s), cheese… gone.  Frozen vegetables?  Fogetaboutit.

Canned veggies didn’t fair much better.  Although the couple in front of us at the checkout managed to load up a cart full of canned pinto beans and collard greens.  I’m thinking new furnace filters may be in order there as well.

We talked with the cashier as she rang up our groceries.  “It was a lot busier earlier today”, she told us.  “It was crazy.  But people were pretty nice.  Nobody got worked up or anything.”  I began to feel a little better about humanity and all the hoarding we’ve heard about.

“Well, I guess there were a couple of fist fights out in the parking lot earlier.”

So much for feeling better.

Here in America, we were okay for the most part with just hoarding paper goods, respirator masks and water.  But then we received the unbelievable news.

Tom Hanks tested positive for coronavirus.

If America’s favorite human being can get COVID-19 then, surely, we are all vulnerable.  Our reaction?  We did the only reasonable thing we could as a society.

We bought up all the frozen vegetables, boxed pasta and flour we could find.

We cleared the stores of peanut butter faster than store employees could say “but we have plenty of crunchy in the stock room”.

Like a plague of locust, we descended upon the canned good aisles of our markets, leaving the shelves bare of all but the off-brand canned pinto beans and collard greens.

Ok.  Lest I go too far out in the weeds, let me stop and reel this in a bit.  COVID-19 is serious.  Limiting exposure to large crowds etc. is the wise, prudent thing to do.  Stocking up to be prepared is also smart.

My 13 year-old son unwittingly put this whole thing in perspective for me as we stood in line to check out.  “Dad, is this just like the Great Depression?”  (Oh, where are my grandparents when I need them?)

“No, son”, I explained.  “This is nothing like the Great Depression.  There is plenty of food in this store.  Nobody should worry about going hungry over this.  This is more like the Great Inconvenience.  You may have to wait a while to get exactly what you want to eat, but there is plenty to eat.  In the Great Depression, people went hungry because they couldn’t afford to eat.”

Again, I am not making light of what is, in it’s face, a frightening unknown.  The Corona Virus Pandemic will – indeed already is – change how we do things.  The impact on lives will be great and permanent.  There’s the health impact, economic impact… how we go about our daily lives and leisure time will be forever changed in some ways.

But there is one constant: God will not change.  “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6, ESV).  And, despite the maelstrom that swirls around us, God is still in control.

What we all need to do as followers of Christ is remain faithful.  Trust fully in God.  Rest in Him.  Prepare?  Absolutely.  Be wise?  Always.  But be ready to help a neighbor in need.  Be ready to follow the lead of the Lord.  Pray.  Pray.

Pray for those who contract this virus.

Pray for those whose jobs put them at risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 (medical workers, rescuers, police, airport employees, etc.)

Pray for those who face difficulties through this pandemic (quarantine, loss of income, etc.)

Pray for our leaders, for wisdom and guidance.

Pray for one another.

And, friends, it’s ok to keep a sense of humor about things.  Being cheerful in faith will do those around you far more good than being dour, sour and fearful.  Be glad in the Lord!   Stand fearless in faith!  Remember all the Lord has done for you!  And show the world your unshakable faith – be salt and light!

In other words… keep doing all the things we as Christ followers should be doing anyway.

And, to the lady at the store last night pushing the cart weighed-down with bottles of Diet Coke: what are you thinking?  There’s still plenty of Coke Zero on the shelves.

(c) 2020 by Chris Courtney.  All rights reserved.

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who could use a boost.  And please be sure to visit our website: http://www.bouvillediarist.com.

Mindfulness

Phrenology1

This picture is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.

I wish I could crawl into your brain.  I’d love to worm my way into your lateral prefrontal cortex and convince of the hope you have through Jesus Christ.  I wish I could say the magic words to make your soul explode wide open with faith and joy.  I wish I could make you understand that we don’t need to understand all that’s going on in and around our lives.

There are times aplenty when I wish someone could crawl into my frontal lobe and do the same for me.

But, the truth is, no matter how strong and wonderous our brains may be, none of us is omniscient.  None of us can know all the whys and why nots and ifs and whens of life.  We simply are not God.

However, we can have the mind of Christ.  That doesn’t mean our thought processes are even close to on par with the Almighty.  (Even if I could, I definitely wouldn’t want the responsibility!)  What I mean by “the mind of Christ” is how we process what we perceive, where our focus lies, how we choose to see the world around us.

Consider this:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:1-11 [ESV]

What is Paul saying?  We are called to see the world the way Jesus sees it.  He didn’t fear the future.  He didn’t wonder if He was on the right track.  He didn’t second guess His every move.  Jesus followed the Father as the perfect example / personification of love.

Jesus did nothing out of selfish ambition.  Rather, His thoughts and actions were in lock-step with the Father.

If we can do the same – not merely as individuals, but as the community of believers, the body of Christ – we will find the answers we seek.  We’ll discover our worries are in vain.  We’ll be changed – transformed – into the people God created each and all of us to be.

Concerns of self-interest shrink when we live for others.  Our burdens are lighter, our joy full when we approach life as Christ did – with no condemnation, no worry, no doubt, no confusion.

It’s all about following the example of Jesus Christ, right down to how we think about our lives, ourselves and others.  Before you begin to worry, think about all the Lord has done.  Before you begin to doubt, look at His beautiful creation and consider the Creator.  Before you are overcome with anger or jealousy or bitterness, think of all you have been forgiven for.  Then apply these thoughts to your approach to life.

Live peacefully.  Love completely.  Believe with abandon.

Fishbowl Faith

goldfishPhoto attribution: Souravgg8 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Well… so much for my presidential aspirations.  It appears I’ve been shut out at the Iowa causus.

Again.

And, really, I’m okay with it.  It’s better to be a goldfish in one’s own aquarium than a clown fish in a cesspool.

It can be disappointing to set a goal and go for it, only to miss the mark and “fail”.  However, when we’re following Jesus and setting our sights on Him, we’re not going to truly fail.  Sure, maybe we don’t get the job or promotion.  Maybe we don’t quite hit the mark we set for ourselves (or had set for us).

Maybe we don’t feel like we are where we ought to be in life.

Relax.  Here’s some good news:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 [ESV]

Wherever we are in life, we are not alone.  God is always with us, working for our good.  And – here’s the tough part – we have to trust that God knows what’s best for us.

Even when His best for us isn’t what we think is best for us.

Especially when His best for us isn’t what we think is best for us.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 [ESV]

You see, what’s important to God is what needs to be important to us.  And, frankly, the Lord is not impressed by our job titles.  Or our bank account balances.  Or our station in life.

What is important is that we are salt and light to world around us, wherever the Lord has us.

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:13-16 [ESV]

It isn’t where we are in life that is important.  It’s what we do where we are, with what we’ve been given by God, that matters.  It is how we love the people who cross our paths.  Understand that we are not nearly in control as we like to think.

Looking back on my life, I can see times when God pulled me to safety as I stubbornly stood on the tracks with a speeding, runaway train barreling toward me. It would have been certain disaster had things gone my way.  If I had to guess, you can probably relate.

God can – and will – bless us where we are.  He equips us to fulfill His plan for our lives.  He meets us where we are.  So there’s no need to worry about failure, or any aspect of our lives.  

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:31-32 [ESV] 

Follow God with enthusiasm.  Love God and others with purpose.   Trust God with abandon.  Live like the Lord God, Creator and Sustainer of all, is with you always.  Because He is.

As for politics, I’m grateful I’m not called to be a goldfish in a carnival game, stuck in a small bowl with lids throwing ping pong balls at me.  I am thankful for the aquarium God has placed me in.

Sleep Well

There is nothing beyond God.  You cannot surprise Him.  You cannot stump Him. You cannot run so far that He can’t reach you.

He is bigger than any trouble you face.

He is greater than whatever’s plaguing you.

He is with you.  You are not alone.

Hang on with faith, dear one.  Go to our Father God.  Talk to Him.  Trust Him.  

Know He loves you.  Know the Lord is your hope.  Rest in Him.

Sleep well, dear friend.  Rest easy in the love of Jesus.

Good night.

Camping in Philippi, Part 2

FWS-831

No, this is not me in the photo.  Nor is this campsite in Philippi or anywhere else in Greece.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the source of this picture – this is a Junjik Valley Man with his wall tent.

The Junjik River Valley is in far northern Alaska.  I’ve never been to Alaska.

Or Greece.

But I’d like to someday.

When I say I’m “camping” in Philippi, I simply mean I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and meditating on the book of Philippians.

But you already knew that.

As I was sitting reading Philippians 4:4-9, I was struck by the absolute, emphatic, all-encompassing language Paul uses.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9 [ESV] – bold italics added for emphasis

There are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” here.  No “maybes”.  No “sometimes”.

We are to rejoice in the Lord always.  Not when we feel like it.  Not when everything is nice and tidy in our perfect little lives.  No, we are called to rejoice always.  When we’re hurting, or worried, or down.  Rich or poor, healthy or ill, calm or stressed, we are told to rejoice.  Always!  This fact is so important, Paul repeats it for emphasis.

We are to be anxious for nothing.  Not “nothing but…”  Nothing!  Again, Paul emphasizes the point, this time with the opposite side of the coin: in everything, go to God.

It may not make sense to rejoice or refuse anxiety when you look at your circumstances.  But, that’s the point.  We aren’t meant to look at our circumstances.

We’re meant to look to God, to fix our gaze upward with joy and thanksgiving.

Paul even admits that such behavior is illogical from our limited earthly perspective.  But seeking true peace with God is seeking the peace beyond all understanding – far deeper than a mere calming of our life’s storms.

Finally, Paul tells what to think about.  Note the six “whatevers” and two “any(thing)s” in verse 8.  These are the thoughts God wants us to have.  All of these are thoughts on the ways of our Lord: truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, awesomeness, excellence, praiseworthiness… in their truest forms, these are reflections on God.

It all boils down to this: we are to focus on the Lord, not  ourselves.  We have to not let life get us down, but rather let God lift us up.  And let all the world know Jesus is our hope!!

Rest in Jesus.  Sleep well dear friends. Trust in God’s grace and love.  And know the Lord is in control.

The Substance of Faith

 

20190614_191112 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 [ESV]

There are people on this earth who just exude joy.  Even in the hardest of circumstances, they hold it together.  They project an inner peace and calm and confidence in something beyond them.  By all worldly standards, their situation should have them shaking in their boots.  But… they keep on smiling, resolute and defiant in the face of opposition.

People like this used to befuddle me.  I couldn’t figure them out.  I could only come to conclusion as to the source of this seemingly inappropriate joy.

Drugs.

Thankfully, over the years God has shown me a few things through my own circumstances. I’ve had – still have – plenty of battles with anxiety, depression and worry. Do you mind if I share just a few thoughts on the subject of joy and troubles?

It’s Faith, Not Drugs

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 [KJV]

Faith – that assurance in God in all things – is the substance, the thing that makes our hopes tangible.  Not just some pie-in-the-sky dream, but reality.  The NIV uses the word “confidence”.  The ESV says “assurance”.

The Greek word for “substance” is ὑπόστασις (hupostasis).  This term indicates faith is our very nourishment.  It is by faith  in God through Jesus that we grow.

It’s Faith, Not Human Perception

Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.  Likewise, we don’t know what God knows.  We are not omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent.  We do not know what will happen in ten seconds, let alone ten hours (or days or weeks or… you get the picture).

This is why we must learn to see through eyes of faith.  We have to trust the Lord.  We have to give Him our burdens and not take them back.  We have to believe that, despite the circumstances we see and perceive, our situation is not hopeless.  Our hope is in the Lord.

It’s Faith, Not Navel Gazing

The big problem with fear, anxiety and worry is the focus they bring.  They cause us to look inward.  We spin our wheels worrying about how we’ll fix this or that problem.

Worry and anxiety are unproductive at best. And, when we spin in the mud of doubt and fear, we just end up slinging filth and ick and burying ourselves in the mess.

Am I saying we should do nothing to fix the problems in our lives?  Not at all.  What I am saying is this:

  1. Go to God.  Tell Him your troubles.  Confess your doubts.
  2. Believe in God.  It is in faith – the true reality of our lives – that we find joy, calm, peace and strength.
  3. Rest in God.  Stop letting anxiety and worry call the shots.
  4. Go with God.  Live your life without fear.  Cast off the anxiety.  Proceed with great confidence in the Lord, knowing in the deepest recesses of your soul that God loves you. He will guide you and care for you and see you through your trials.

As you walk through life, walk with God.  Always.  Stay in His Word.  Pray without ceasing.  Make the Lord your first priority – not your worries.  Focus on God.  Find your nourishment though faith in Jesus.  Set aside the fear and anxiety.  And, when the self defeating thoughts come, stop. Set them aside.  Go to God, in faith, knowing you are safe in His very capable hands.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7 [KJV]

Camping in Philippi

​4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, s but in everything by prayer and supplication t with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be a content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:4-13 (ESV)

I’ve been meditating on this passage a lot lately.  Whenever I’m troubled or anxious, I find great comfort in these promises.  I find myself pitching a tent and just camping here.  I read and re-read the words until they overtake my anxious thoughts.

I want you to do the same.  No matter what you’re facing, it isn’t beyond God’s reach.

Camp out here a while.  Revel in His promises.  Let God show you the reality of your situation in Him.

God bless!

Crazy Eights

I have heard the journey of self discovery described as a path, or long, winding road.  For me, this “adventure” is more like racing on a figure eight dirt car race track. Everything’s great rounding the outer curves.

Then it gets a bit hairy careening toward the center with all the other racing obstacles speeding tow hard the exact same spot in the middle.

Race enough laps and a crash is inevitable.

Eventually, the time will come when one narrowly escapes the mid-point – perhaps with a few scratches or banged up fender – and, entering the calm of the outside curves, has an epiphany.  

I’ve been so busy on this exhausting, anxious “adventure” to discover who I am, all I’ve been doing is driving in circles, getting nowhere.

 And beating the tar out of myself doing it.

My point is simple: if you find yourself on the crazy right track of finding the real you, pull off to the side.  Stop looking inward and begin looking Upward.  Just live.  Do for others.  Truly, selflessly love others.  Just be, and forget all the distractions and detractors.  Only when you stop looking for the real you and start seeking Jesus will God reveal who you truly are.