How to Handle Storms

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

Oh, there have been plenty of years of turmoil, unrest and danger throughout history.

But the events of those years tend to be localised to one region, one country, or at most, a couple of countries at war.

You could be forgiven for succumbing to fear, depression, frustration, anxiety, and any number of other unhealthy responses.

But it doesn’t need to be that way…

We looked at John 6:16-21 on Sunday. In the midst of a raging storm, Jesus goes for a casual stroll on the Sea of Galilee, seemingly unaffected by the turmoil around Him.

His disciples, experienced fisherman many of them, were caught in the same storm. straining at the oars to make any headway against the furious wind, and fearing for their lives.

How did they come to find themselves in such a dire situation? Surprisingly, they were there at the command of Jesus Himself.

If they had known what was coming, would they have ever got into that boat? Or would they have made a point of staying on dry land? I think I know which I would choose – and it’s probably not to set my teeth against the wind…

And do you think Jesus had any idea what was about to happen when He told them to get in the boat and head back across the lake in the dark? Of course He did!

So, it seems there are two reasons why we find ourselves caught in storms today. 1) Because we have disobeyed the Lord. And 2) because we have obeyed the Lord.

And that may surprise some people. In the first instance, the storm is one of the ways He gets our attention and causes us to cry out to Him in repentance and for rescue.

In the second instance, the storm becomes one of the ways He builds our faith, and teaches us to have follow Him through all situations. He means to put steel in our collective spines.

One of His lessons for us is that, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, no matter what opposition we face, when we obey Him, we are perfectly safe. We are invincible, right up until the time He decides to bring us back home to Himself.

No believer has ever ‘died before their time’. No, every Christian is safe until they have fulfilled the purposes of God in their own generation [see Acts 13:36]. Nothing can defeat them before that time. And their eventual death – whether from old age, illness, accident or execution – is evidence that they have fulfilled God’s plan for them. That should be good news, comforting news for every believer.

We will never, in this life, be free from storms, of course. Whether the storms swirl around us from personal conflicts, or whether we are caught up in a greater societal storm, they will continue to buffet us.

But storms are the weight room at the gym of faith. They are meant to build up our spiritual muscle so we can lift increasingly heavy loads of obedience. Christians should anticipate and be prepared for them. Of all people, we should be the best prepared.

We should be ‘Storm Day Preppers’, trusting Him and going wherever He commands with confidence, because we have learnt that He is faithful. Will we exercise our faith or abandon it when we find ourselves on that raging sea with waves crashing all around us?

Abundant Supply

“What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” So asks the Bible in several places.

Indeed, what is man that God should spare him a second thought? Is man a miniature version of God, with all the qualities and all the abilities of God Himself – just at a reduced level?

After all, the Bible does say that God made man in His image. So, are we all ‘mini-gods?’

Or is humanity so vastly different to God that it is hard to find any point of similarity between the two? For the Bible also says that God is not a man that He should lie, or a son of man that he should change is mind.

The reality is that there is a vast, immeasurable gulf between us and God. If we could picture it, it would be like comparing a grain of sand to Mt Everest.

Except that you could quantify the difference between a grain of sand and Mt Everest. You can’t quantify the infinite difference between God and man.

And yet, God chooses to do His work through us weak, foolish, and flawed human beings.

In John 6, a crowd of maybe 20,000 people has been listening to Jesus teach all day. And they are getting hungry.

The disciples have no idea what to do about the problem. To give a crowd this size even a mouthful would cost $40,000 – assuming you could find a shop in that barren region. So they suggest Jesus send everyone home to eat.

But there is an impoverished young boy there who brought his lunch along – 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. That will barely feed the boy himself, let alone all those people.

Not a problem for Jesus though. He takes 5 barley loaves offered by the boy and feeds all those hungry people until they are full. And He creates so much that there are 12 baskets full of leftovers.

The God who created the sun, the moon, the stars, the whole universe out of nothing with a mere word doesn’t even need 5 loaves and willing humans to do His miraculous work.

But He chooses to do His work through us. He chooses to take our paltry and petty offerings, and use them to feed the world.

The great 5th century pastor and theologian said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, He will not.” God – for reasons we find difficult to fathom – prefers to involve us in His work, even though we do it imperfectly and often with wrong motives.

But it is all part of teaching us about who is really the source of our supply. We too quickly look at what we have to offer, or how we can drum up enough money to meet that need or fix that problem.

And sadly, it is only when we realise that we don’t have enough and become desperate that we turn to Him for His solution, His provision.

We should have turned to Him first with our 5 loaves and 2 fish. We should have said, “Lord, I have so little to offer, and the need is so great. I can’t meet this need, Lord, even though I long to. But You can. Would you take this tiny offering and use it to meet this need?”

He doesn’t need much. He can use whatever we have to offer. We only need to trust Him to use it and to multiply it.

And He’s good at that. He’s done it before. He’ll do it again. He doesn’t need your much. In fact, He usually prefers to use your little. But He wants to use you when He does it.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me [2Cor 12:9].

He is indeed powerful. He is indeed mindful of us.

Christ is Superior to Moses

Moses was a great man. No doubt about it. In the Bible story, Moses was one of the greatest.

After a difficult start (read Exo 2:1-10), he grew up surrounded by the enormous wealth and power of Egypt. But it seems he never forgot his Hebrew roots, for he came to the aid of one of his own people by killing an Egyptian who was beating one of his people.

Anyway, Moses flees to the desert for safety, where he gets a job as a shepherd, settles down, gets married and fathers a child. Not the wealth he grew up with, but Moses was content.

One day though, God confronts him in a burning bush and sends him back to Egypt to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery, and to lead them into the Promised Land.

Moses obeys the Lord, returns to Egypt, and was able to lead the people out on their journey towards their true home. Not without struggle, mind you. But they were able to escape their slavery.

Along the way, the Lord begins to speak to Moses “mouth to mouth,” as the Bible puts it. “Face to face,” we would say. For Moses was God’s servant, “faithful in all My house” [Num 12:6-8].

What a great privilege. No one else in the Bible had this sort of relationship with God, at least, not since Adam before he sinned in the Garden of Eden.

God revealed things to Moses that he revealed to no one else. Moses taught the people the 10 Commandments. He taught them the importance of sacrifice for sin, and of God’s intention to dwell with His people.

Moses was the great deliverer who led them out of bondage to the edge of the Promised Land. And he did it faithfully, enduring the complaints, criticism and outright rebellion of the people the whole time.

No wonder the Jews revered Moses.

But, as faithful as Moses was, he was unable to bring them into the Promised Land. It would take another to do that – Joshua – whose name, incidentally, means ‘Saviour.’ Hmm, that too reminds me of Another…

Moses was certainly worthy of great honour. But Moses was a pointer to Someone greater – Someone who is worthy of greater honour than even Moses.

And the book of Hebrews continues this theme of the superiority of this One who is over all others, as Mike showed us on Sunday from Heb 3.

Jesus Christ is the one to whom Moses pointed. Moses was a servant in the house. A faithful servant, to be sure, but a servant none-the-less.

Jesus Christ is faithful too. But He is faithful as a Son in the house. For He not only has the ear of the Father every day, but He is the heir of the house.

All of the Father’s possessions will one day be His. And, according to Heb 3:6, we are the house that He will one day inherit – if we hold fast to Him.

Moses was counted worthy of some glory for he was faithful in God’s house.

But Jesus Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses. For He is supreme over all creation, over all the angels, over Moses – and as Hebrews will go on to show us – over the Law that Moses delivered to the people. Jesus Christ is faithful to deliver into the true Promised Land all who would put their trust in Him. Won’t you do that today?

Finding Jesus is on Every Page of the Bible

Jesus was pretty critical of the Pharisees for their inability to get beyond debates about the Law of Moses to see what the Scriptures were really all about.

He told them over and over again that they were missing the point. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” He told them [John 5:39]. And “… For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” [John 5:46].

We can look down our collective noses at the Pharisees for their stubborn ignorance. But, of course, we have the benefit of the New Testament to help us understand what the Old Testament was all about.

And still we get it wrong so often…

Have you ever heard a message about “How to be a Daniel” or “3 Keys to a happy marriage from the Song of Solomon”? If you have, there is a fair chance that the preacher has missed the point too.

That’s not to say that we can’t learn important principles about life from the Old Testament. But it does suggest that the preacher is using the Old Testament in the same way as the Pharisees did – as a rule book for better living.

Rather, Jesus was insistent that the Scriptures were written about Him first and foremost. And with the benefit of the New Testament and 2,000 years of scholarship, we too should be able to see the primary meaning of Scripture.

And we have a benefit that the Pharisees didn’t have; we have the New Testament to explain the significance of those strange and obscure passages.

The great 5th century pastor and theologian Augustine said, “The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.” He was exactly right.

A handful of examples:

  • The rock that gave out water in the wilderness (Exo 17; Num 20; 1Cor 10:4; Jn 4:13-14).
  • Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28; Jn 1:51).
  • The serpent on the pole (Num 21; Jn :14-15).
  • The flood and Noah’s Ark (Gen 6; 1Pet 3:18-22).
  • Animal sacrifices (Gen 3; Gen 22; Exo 12; the Tabernacle and the Temple; Lk 22; the book of Hebrews).
  • Adam (Gen 1-3; Rom 5; 1Cor 15).

There are myriads more Old Testament passages that the New Testament sheds light on. Tracing a particular theme through the Old Testament to the New gives us incredible insights into who Jesus Christ is, and why He came.

We would be infinitely poorer without the Old Testament – as difficult as it can be to read. But without it, most of what the New Testament teaches would be meaningless. It would be like trying to understand algebra when you haven’t yet learned to count.

Trying to read the Bible from cover to cover is a challenge that is often defeated when we hit only the 3rd and 4th books of it. Mind-numbingly long lists of genealogies and irrelevant laws are enough to put off most people.

But that’s at least in part because we are looking for the wrong thing there. Jesus said that even all of that was written about Him. So when we read through it, we should instead be looking for what it reveals to us about Jesus Christ.

I won’t pretend that this will make it all easy going. But you will find gems scattered through even the boring books that give you amazing insight into our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the work He has done on our behalf.

And that should result in praise and adoration of Him, in deep gratitude for His mercy towards us, and humble worship before Him. For that is what the whole Bible is meant to do – open our eyes to Jesus Christ to worship Him.

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There are many great resources to help you read the Bible and see Jesus Christ on every page. Some of the better ones are:
The Bible Project: https://thebibleproject.com/

Reading plans: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-reading-plan/prof-horners-reading-system.html

How to study the Bible: https://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/resources/core-seminars/series/how-to-study-the-bible/

Books: https://www.amazon.com.au/Jesus-Every-Page-Simple-Testament/dp/1400205344

Biblical Theology: https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-biblical-theology/

Free Biblical Theology course: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/biblical-theology-hamilton/

Other: https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/series/why-bother-with-the-bible/

What Are You Hoping to Find When You Read the Bible?

“He can’t see the forest for the trees.” So goes the old saying. For those unfamiliar with it, it means that a person has become so absorbed with the minute details that he has lost sight of the big picture. None of us are immune to this problem.

It’s an accusation that Jesus levels at the Pharisees at the end of John 5. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” [John 5:39-40] and “… if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” [John 5:46].

Pretty serious accusations considering that the Pharisees revered the Scriptures. They treasured them, committing huge swathes of their Bible (our Old Testament) to memory.

It would be fair to say that they knew the Scriptures inside-out, upside-down, and every other which-way. It was their favourite point of discussion, debate, learning, writing, and study.

“Not good enough!” Jesus tells them. “You’ve missed the point.” And so can we…

It’s not unusual for Christians – when they have gained some in-depth knowledge of the Bible – to want to discuss it, and debate it, and study the finest details of it.

Not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t get the impression that I’m critical of studying the word of God. Don’t imagine that I belong to the ‘Just believe it – it doesn’t matter what it means’ camp.

I commend studying the Bible – and studying it deeply. Anyone who has to preach and teach the word of God fails his congregation if he is not studying it. And he will have to answer to God one day for his failure – a sobering thought.

But… why are we studying it? That’s the important question. Are we studying it like the Pharisees did – to find things to argue about; to find things to shore up our position; to find rules for living so that God will give us the eternal life that He owes us for our good behaviour (… as if!)?

Or are we studying it to find the One who it speaks of – Jesus Christ? Are we studying it to learn the truth of who He is – God in the flesh, infinitely perfect, infinitely holy, infinitely loving, infinitely merciful.

And are we studying it to find the truth of who we are? Rebels, alienated from God, proud of our superior knowledge or purer blood-lines or greater wealth; sinners, rotten to the core, deserving only of eternal punishment.

For that is what these Scriptures tell us about Him, and about ourselves. And rather than becoming points for heated debate, this knowledge should drive us to our knees, crying out for mercy at His hands.

You want to see a good illustration of the difference between the two types of people? Read Luke 18:9-14. The tax collector may not have been a great Bible scholar, but he knew enough to know he was a sinner, unworthy of anything good from God. The Pharisee on the other hand – the one who knew the Bible inside out – he thought God owed him something for his great knowledge and good behaviour and pure bloodlines.

No, the Scriptures tell us the truth. We need truth today more than ever. Bombarded by fake news, mindless distractions, misinformation, outright lies and cover-ups, truth – eternal truth – is all that we have to hold on to.

And there is only one place to find eternal truth – in the Bible. So study the Scriptures. But study them to find Him who offers life through them – Jesus Christ. For every word of the Bible is designed to reveal Jesus Christ and point us to Him for salvation.

Pay Attention! Don’t Drift Away!

Picture yourself laying back in a small boat on a lake, sun shining, breeze blowing, birds chirping. All’s right with the world and there’s nothing to disturb your peace. Blissful! How easy it is to just lay there and drift.

In the course of one perfect afternoon, your little boat could float from one side of the lake to the other, with just the lightest of breezes blowing. Of course, then will come the hard work of rowing back to the other side, but we can worry about that later. Let’s just enjoy this while we can.

As enjoyable and as easy as it is, drifting is not always safe. And that’s exactly what Heb 2 warns.

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Judgment or Life – The Choice is Yours

So, are we saved by grace, or are we saved by our good works? It’s an age-old question.

I can almost hear the shouts, “By grace, of course! How can you imagine anything else?”

Then why does Jesus say in John 5:28-29 “… an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment”?

It seems pretty plain: “… those who have done good… those who have done evil…”

Have Christians got this wrong all this time?

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Jesus Christ is Superior to the Angels

“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things” (Revelation 22:8).

Angels are terrifying beings. They are nothing like the cute and cuddly babies with wings that Renaissance art depicts.

They are terrifyingly glorious, and they are terrifyingly powerful. They are truly fearsome creatures.

In fact, they are so fearsome that they frequently have to announce their arrival with “Fear not,” lest the mere mortals they are appearing to fall down dead in terror. 

The angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel with a message, and Daniel was so terrified that he fell on his face in fear (see Dan 8:16-17).

Even the apostle John, who walked and talked and lived with Jesus for 3 years fell down to worship at the feet of an angel. Little wonder, then, that we humans should be tempted to worship and exalt them. 

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Is Jesus Really God?

John 5:18 tells us that “… the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him (Jesus), because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

What a wild claim! Equal with God! What sort of arrogance does it take to claim equality with God? No wonder the Jews – fiercely protective of the ‘oneness’ of God – wanted to shut Jesus up.

Every good Jew knew that God is one – and only one. The verse sometimes known as the ‘Sh’ma’ says it plainly; “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” [Deut 6:4].

There had been plenty in the past who had the audacity to claim to be what they were not – prophets, messiahs, saviours of the people. And each one ended in disappointment at best, captivity and slaughter at worst.

In fact, this desire to be like God goes back a long way. Back to the Garden of Eden, in fact, where the devil enticed Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit with the promise “… when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” [Gen 3:5].

So, for another to come along declaring Himself to not only be the Messiah, but claiming to be equal to God Himself was just going too far for them.

Jesus’ claim that He is God in the flesh is, then, an audacious claim. And it’s a claim that led to His execution as a heretic, a blasphemer, executed like a common criminal.

But in John 5, Jesus not only stands by His claim before His accusers, He ‘ups the ante’ by making more claims to prove His Godhood.

And each claim enraged the religious leaders more.

So, what are some of those claims?

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How Will You Respond To Jesus?

What a fascinating contrast the apostle John provides for us between all the various character in his gospel. He shows us a real mixed bag of people, from all different walks of society.

Rich and poor, respected and outcast, family member and stranger, working class and ruling class, illiterate and educated, friend and enemy.

Each person different from the other in background, experience, nationality, social standing, education, popularity. Truly, Jesus comes for everyone.

But we also see a mixed bag of reactions to Jesus too.

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