Faith vs. Fear: Matthew 14:22-33

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Immediately after the miracle where Jesus fed the crowd of over 5,000 people, we discover that He sends the disciples away. At the very end of last week’s passage, John told us that Jesus perceived that the people wanted to crown Him King and it is likely that the disciples would have not objected to this in any way. However, Jesus knew that being crowned an earthly king, while flattering, was not within God’s plan for glorifying Him before the people. Jesus also knew that being crowned King would ultimately not give honor to the Father.

This information sets the stage for our focus passage in this episode, and it leads into another miracle that is our focus for this week. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 22, Matthew tells us that:

22 Jesus quickly made his disciples get into a boat and cross to the other side ahead of him while he sent the people away. 23 After sending the people away, he went up a mountain to pray by himself. When evening came, he was there alone.

Pausing briefly, if you remember, two episodes ago, Mark’s gospel had set the stage for the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 with Jesus wanting to go and rest with His disciples. However, because of what had happened, we see in Matthew’s gospel that that night, Jesus rested and prayed alone while the disciples were crossing the lake without Him.

However, that night without Jesus was not peaceful for the disciples. Continuing reading in verse 24, Matthew shares that:

24 The boat, now hundreds of yards from shore, was being thrown around by the waves because it was going against the wind.

25 Between three and six o’clock in the morning, he came to them. He was walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. They said, “It’s a ghost!” and began to scream because they were afraid.

27 Immediately, Jesus said, “Calm down! It’s me. Don’t be afraid!”

28 Peter answered, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 Jesus said, “Come!” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed how strong the wind was, he became afraid and started to sink. He shouted, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately, Jesus reached out, caught hold of him, and said, “You have so little faith! Why did you doubt?”

32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped blowing. 33 The men in the boat bowed down in front of Jesus and said, “You are truly the Son of God.”

In this miracle, we see some amazing themes and truths we can relate to in our own lives. After a whole night of rowing without making any progress, Jesus sees that the disciples need help. While I don’t know if any of them tried to command the wind and waves to be calm like Jesus had done earlier in His time with them, the disciples are trying in vain to cross the lake when it seems as though everything is working against them.

In this detail, we can see the idea that when we are not with Jesus, everything we try to do for Jesus is in vain. Without Jesus’ help, we are at the mercy of the waves of this life and at the mercy of the winds of culture. While we might be able to make progress on our own, any progress we do make would be nowhere near the progress that could be made if we were with Jesus. Without Jesus, the boat only reached a few hundred yards from the shore, which is not much progress when you are trying to cross the lake. But after Jesus entered the boat, reaching their destination was easy.

Also in this miracle is the powerful example we see in Peter. When all the disciples are fearful at the appearance of Jesus walking towards them on the water, only Peter has the courage to challenge Jesus on His claim, and in my imagination, before Peter even realizes it, he is jumping over the side of the boat and walking towards Jesus.

From what I’ve heard preachers and others say when describing this event is that Peter took His eyes off of Jesus, and this is what prompted him to start sinking. Some people have said that Peter’s downfall was when he looked back to see if the rest of the disciples were watching, which implies a prideful attitude that would lead to his sinking.

However, I don’t see anything in this event that hints at Peter looking back. Instead, all we see included in this event leading up to Peter’s sinking is two things. Verse 30 tells us that when Peter “noticed how strong the wind was, he became afraid and started to sink.” This statement is probably one of the most powerful statements in the entire Bible that relates to losing faith.

Note that there is nothing wrong with noticing how strong the wind was, but when we let the supposed strength of the wind exceed the faith in the power of God, we sink. In Peter’s noticing how strong the wind was, we could conclude that he took his eyes off of Jesus, but all it might have taken is a wave to break his concentration, or a splash of water.

Peter didn’t need to take his eyes off of Jesus to know that the wind and waves were strong. He had spent the entire previous part of the night rowing against the wind and waves. The critical phrase for us to pay attention to is Peter becoming afraid when walking towards Jesus. When Peter’s fear became greater than his faith, the only thing left was gravity, which pulled him down into the water. When our faith takes a second place seat to our fear, nothing we do will be successful. Faith is powerful, and faith plus Jesus is unstoppable.

As we move through the coming days, weeks, and months this year, remember to keep your faith stronger than your fear, and step forward with your faith into the life God has called you to live!

As we come to the end of another podcast, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God and place Him first in your life. Intentionally move forward in life with a strong focus on growing your faith. Live intentionally with a faith that is stronger than your fear and when you mix this faith with Jesus, nothing Satan does can stop you from living the life God has called you to live.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and mature your faith in Him. God wants a personal relationship with you, and a personal relationship starts when you personally spend time with God praying, reading, studying, and listening to what He wants to share with you. A personal relationship with God is way more powerful than simply leaning on others for your spiritual knowledge.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be scared out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 28: When Jesus comes to the disciples after a long night of trying to cross a windy lake, we discover through this event and miracle that faith, when placed in Jesus, is unstoppable. In contrast, fear erodes our faith, and faith that is weaker than our fear ends up being worthless.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Remaining Faithful: Luke 12:1-12

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One of the things that I am always amazed by is how Jesus explains challenging concepts in simple ways, all while challenging the incorrect beliefs of people who were present. Jesus also had a way of challenging groups of people without singling any one specific person out.

While all four gospels include great sections of Jesus teaching, preaching, and challenging the crowds, the passage we will be looking at in this episode covers quite a number of powerful concepts that we might not make it through them all in one episode.

So without further delay, let’s dive into what Jesus taught His followers. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1:

Meanwhile, thousands of people had gathered. They were so crowded that they stepped on each other. Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees. I’m talking about their hypocrisy. Nothing has been covered that will not be exposed. Whatever is secret will be made known. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. Whatever you have whispered in private rooms will be shouted from the housetops.

Let’s pause reading here because it is worth focusing in on the idea Jesus just finished sharing. All too often, we have the idea that we can keep things in our lives a secret, but Jesus tells us that this is a lie. Regardless of whether you believe Jesus’ words to be true or not, we know that in this case, Jesus is sharing truth because of the following reasons:

First, if you look at the recent news, scandal after scandal is being revealed. These things happened because those who are found out to be guilty believed that their actions would remain hidden, however reality discovered their secrets. The first way Jesus’ words are true is when someone breaks the silence and exposes the secret to the world. This could happen while the guilty party is still alive or after they are dead.

Next, Jesus’ words are true because even if it is a secret known only to one, there are truly no secrets known only to one. God, the angels, Satan, and perhaps even those living on other worlds know what is happening here – even when we might think we are doing something that is 100% secret. The secrets we believe are safe will be revealed to everyone when Jesus returns and we get the opportunity to look at God’s record of judgment.

One of the subtle themes in the Bible is that God’s character is on trial because of Satan’s accusations, and while Jesus proved God’s love for each of us, God’s people will get the opportunity to look at history’s record and judge God for His choices throughout history. When we look at history’s record, no secret will stay hidden.

After challenging those present with this, Jesus continues by shifting gears and talking about focusing on eternity. He tells His followers in verse 4:

“My friends, I can guarantee that you don’t need to be afraid of those who kill the body. After that they can’t do anything more. I’ll show you the one you should be afraid of. Be afraid of the one who has the power to throw you into hell after killing you. I’m warning you to be afraid of him.

Pausing again, regardless of what you believe about the nature of death and hell or how this translation words these verses, the clear message here is that God has the ability to determine your eternal destiny, and when faced with challenges in our present lives, they will only be temporary challenges if we choose to stay faithful to God. While remaining faithful to God is not popular in the world today, it is the only way to be safe to save for eternity!

It’s also worth noting that even if we have failed numerous times, we can choose to remain faithful from this point moving forward and God will look at our present choices over our past failures!

Jesus continues in verse 6 by shifting topics slightly again. He tells the crowd of followers:

“Aren’t five sparrows sold for two cents? God doesn’t forget any of them. Even every hair on your head has been counted. Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows. I can guarantee that the Son of Man will acknowledge in front of God’s angels every person who acknowledges him in front of others. But God’s angels will be told that I don’t know those people who tell others that they don’t know me. 10 Everyone who says something against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But the person who dishonors the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

This last verse is one of the hardest verses for me to understand in the four gospels. However, the theme Jesus shares is unmistakable: Those who publicly side with Jesus will be acknowledged by God throughout the universe, while those who keep their faith hidden or secret will lose out on this acknowledging.

While Jesus said just a few verses earlier that everything secret will be made known, the idea in these verses is that secret faith is worthless – and the implication is that those who God doesn’t acknowledge will not be saved when God’s angels gather God’s people together.

But verse 10 is perplexing: “Everyone who says something against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But the person who dishonors the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” This verse is challenging because it sounds like people are given a blank check to speak out against Jesus, because they will be forgiven, but there is a zero tolerance policy in place for those who dishonor or speak out against the Holy Spirit.

The way I understand this verse is similar to what we have hinted at a number of times in this year of podcasts already, and this idea is that we must be careful about judging things before seeing the results. If God chooses to use something that is outside of our comfort zone to bring people to Him, then chances are His Spirit is at work. If we try to discredit something God’s Spirit is trying to accomplish because we don’t believe God would do this, there is a good chance we might be guilty of dishonoring His Spirit.

It is also worth pointing out that the more we reject the Holy Spirit working in our own lives, the less clear we will be able to see the real Jesus, and the further we will drift away from Him. If dishonoring the Holy Spirit is synonymous to rejecting His Spirit in our lives, there is no way we can truly come to Jesus to be saved.

Jesus finishes the passage we are looking at by warning His followers that they will be put on trial for what they believe. He tells us in verses 11 and 12:

11 “When you are put on trial in synagogues or in front of rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say. 12 At that time the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say.”

As a public speaker, I know firsthand the value of preparing beforehand. I know that without preparation, my speaking will fall flat. However, I also am fully aware and embrace the fact that every single presentation I have given has gone differently than I have pictured it going in my head. The more I’ve prepared, the better the difference is, whereas the less I’ve prepared, the more I’ve felt like I flopped.

However, Jesus’ challenge is that when others accuse us or put us on trial, we should trust that the Holy Spirit will speak through us and through our defense. While I don’t believe this means we shouldn’t prepare a defense, I believe that any preparation we do should help us push aside our worry. I believe the Holy Spirit will use what we have prepared for His purposes and for His glory when we let Him. Experience has taught me to prepare and then let God speak through me and give me the exact words to say.

While there have been plenty of cases in history that those on trial for belief in Jesus have faced death, their lives and witness has carried the movement forward and their lives demonstrate what faith in God truly looks like. I have no doubt that these people will be with us in Heaven, and that their lives helped lead others to a saving relationship with God!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Choose to place God first in your life. Be confident about acknowledging your faith in God and in Jesus, and be proud of your belief in what Jesus has done for you. Never let someone intimidate you into being quiet about what God has done for you, because when we declare publically that we are on God’s side, God will tell His angels that we are safe to save for eternity.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow a personal relationship with God. It is through a personal relationship with God that we learn and know what He is like, and included in every strong foundation for this faith is a confidence in the promises of His word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 27: Discover some strong words Jesus challenges His followers with, and how Jesus’ words can help us live for God today!

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The Sacrificial Gift: John 6:1-15

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In our last episode, we looked at how Mark described the events leading up to Jesus feeding the crowd of over 5,000 people. However, in our last episode, we ran out of time before we could cover the miracle itself. While in other episodes, we focused in on the same gospel for multiple episodes, since this miracle is in all four gospels, I thought we could look at a different gospel this week. As I’m sure you noticed in the intro, the gospel we’ll be using this week is the gospel of John.

Let’s read how John describes this miracle, and then talk for a few minutes about some things we can learn from this miracle. This event is found in John, chapter 6, and we will read it from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” 6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

In this miracle, we see an amazing theme that God is able to supply all of our needs, and in many cases, God is willing to bless us with more than just the bare minimum of our needs. While the disciples calculate among themselves that 200 days wages would be enough for a light snack for everyone present, Jesus fully knows there is a boy in the crowd who had the foresight to bring a lunch with him, and that this boy is generous enough to give his lunch to Jesus.

While the disciples and the crowd had an amazing story to tell, nothing would match the excitement we could imagine the boy telling his parents his side of this story, if they weren’t already present, and specifically about how Jesus took the lunch they packed for him and used it to feed over 5,000 people.

From the boy’s perspective, we can see another huge theme within this miracle. From this perspective, we learn that Jesus is able to multiply the little we give to Him into a lot of blessing. When we give to God, we don’t have to worry about whether it is too little to be considered significant because God will multiply it to be more than enough. Generosity is one key we can use to see and experience God’s blessings.

However, while we talk about the boy’s gift and his generosity, it’s worth pointing out that nothing in this entire event hints at the boy only partially giving a gift. John doesn’t describe the boy having a basket with six loaves and taking one before giving the remaining five, with the two fish, to Jesus. While the boy could have had eight loaves and three fish when he left home that morning, whatever he had eaten prior to his gift isn’t relevant because his gift contained all that he had left.

Up until his gift, the boy was simply carrying food for himself to enjoy, but when he learned that Jesus might need something to eat, he is more than willing to give all he can to help Jesus. This boy sacrificially gave, because, like the disciples, this boy had no idea that he would be able to eat much more than his original gift supplied. When we sacrificially give, God is able to bless in extraordinary ways.

The last theme I want to draw our attention to as we begin wrapping this episode up is that we should bring people to Jesus regardless of whether we believe the gifts they have to offer are significant or not. While Andrew was doubtful what this small gift could become, he had enough faith to bring the information, and the boy with his gift, to Jesus. Like Andrew, we are called to bring people to Jesus, and we are to bring people to Him regardless of what we think their potential, or lack thereof, is in God’s kingdom.

We might say that we should bring people to Jesus simply because we know that God loves them and that Jesus died for their sins. There’s no better reason to invite someone to God than because of what Jesus has already done for us.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first in your life and intentionally invite others to experience Him for themselves. While this can be done in a church setting, serving others is also a great way to invite people to experience God for themselves. Never discount your invitation based on what the person you are inviting appears to offer. Instead, freely extend your inviting because you know that God loves them and because Jesus died for them.

Also, as always, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow your faith. While it is easy to simply take someone else’s word for it, God wants a personal relationship with you and that means learning directly from His Word, with no-one else in the middle. While many people are happy to share their opinions with you, filter everything you learn through the truth contained in the Bible.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 27: When a boy gives his lunch to Jesus, we discover one of the most significant miracles in all the gospels. We know this because this is the only official miracle included in all four gospels. Discover several things we can learn from this event that we can apply into our own lives today!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Learning from the Sisters: Luke 10:38-42

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In one of the more well-known stories from the gospels, we meet two sisters, and from what we learn, these two sisters are opposite in many ways. However, what we discover in our passage is that one of the sisters is praised by Jesus, while the other one is challenged.

Those of you who are familiar with the gospels probably already know the event we will be focusing in on in this episode. Our passage comes to us from the gospel of Luke, chapter 10, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 38, Luke tells us that:

38 As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk.

40 But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. 42 There’s only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

In just five short verses, we find a powerful example about how damaging distractions can be in our lives. Looking at this event, Jesus pushes back against our to-do lists, and draws our attention to the importance of our relationships.

However, I think many people stop short when looking at this event. While it is true that we should focus on Jesus and not worry or fuss about all the details, I am certain that Luke chose to include this event for more than simple reminding busy people to stay connected to Jesus.

This event has plenty of other themes present, and some of these themes are very powerful when we look at them a little closer.

The first theme we see is one of the more obvious ones. While both Martha and Mary realized they had the opportunity of a lifetime to get to spend time near Jesus, we see two completely different attitudes from each of these sisters. Even though the passage opens up describing how this was Martha’s house that Jesus was welcomed in to, we learn that Mary sat and listened to Jesus. In Mary’s mind, the best thing she could do was listen and learn from Jesus.

In contrast, we then discover that Martha was focused on housework and all the busywork that was expected (in her mind) from a good hostess. Martha’s focus was on making a good impression to Jesus and His disciples. This contrast is significant. Mary’s goal was to learn from Jesus, while Martha’s goal was to please Jesus. With this contrast, we see the theme that it is more important for us to focus on learning from Jesus than trying to please Him through our actions.

However, this isn’t all we can learn from this event. In Martha’s outburst, we discover something else. Martha asks Jesus, presumably because Mary has ignored her direct requests, to tell Mary to get up and help her. The powerful theme and truth here is that it is easy for someone focused on a task to get upset when others don’t help them with their own goals.

Regardless of the significance of the goal, the goals we set in life feel more important than the goals that other people set. Martha had the goal of being a good hostess, and when Mary didn’t share the same goal as she did, Martha gets upset. Jesus’ response challenges Martha’s focus and tells her that Mary’s goal of resting, listening, and learning is more important than the busywork.

But this isn’t everything we can learn from this event. In Jesus’ response, we can discover two additional themes. In the first part of Jesus’ response to Martha, He says, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There’s only one thing you need.” This statement draws our attention onto the damaging nature of distractions. Jesus tells Martha that there is only one thing she really needs – and the implication is that one thing is not found on her to-do list. The one thing that Martha needs, and we all need this, is time with Jesus away from the distractions of life. Martha let the distractions of her to-do list get in the way of what was truly important, and while being a host or hostess has its responsibilities and challenges, we should never let distractions steal time away from what is truly important.

Martha’s case is the same as ours. The most important thing we can focus on is developing a relationship with Jesus. In this way, Mary made the right choice by sitting and listening at Jesus’ feet – and ignoring the distractions.

The second theme we can learn from Jesus’ response is in the last portion of what Jesus says. Jesus finishes by saying, “Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” In a subtle way, we discover that when we make the right choice, and that choice is spending time with God each day, He will help us keep the connection strong. While other things might try to distract us, or make us too busy to spend time with God, those distractions are the work of Satan trying everything he can to keep us from focusing on what is truly important.

Even good things can distract us away from spending time with God, but when a “good thing” is used as a distraction, we discover that this thing really isn’t good in the big picture. When we ask God for His help to focus on what is truly important, He will help us prioritize and He will help minimize the distractions we face. Know that God is never going to distract us away from spending time with Jesus.

While I’m sure there are other themes we could focus in on, this is a great theme for us to end on, and it is the perfect theme to transition into our challenges at the end of our podcast episode:

As I usually start by challenging you, be sure to seek God first, and intentionally focus on spending time with Him each day. Don’t let distractions steal you away from the one thing that is truly important for each of us. By intentionally spending time with Jesus, you are focusing on the one thing that is the most important thing for anyone and everyone in this life – and that is on growing a saving relationship with God.

As you spend time with God, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, and let God teach you what He wants you to learn from the Bible. While a pastor or podcaster can give you ideas and themes to think about, only through personal study can you discover and grow a personal relationship with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or get distracted while going to where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 26: What can Mary and Martha teach us about focusing on Jesus? Discover several themes we can apply into our own lives through the first time these sisters spend with Jesus.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.