Straining at Your Oars

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”

Mark 6:48

It’s good to know that Jesus sees our labor and effort.  He truly understands all that concerns us, and he perceives every issues that matters most to us.  Attentive and keenly aware He comes to our boat.  It’s quite common for us to think that he isn’t aware, and we may feel that He’ll pass us by without a word.  But that is not the case at all.

Jesus watches over us, all the time. 

He knows all about our battle, the fight we have with our flesh, the difficulty we have with the challenging people in our lives. I often struggle to steer my boat. Jesus knows when and why I labor like I do.  And He doesn’t condemn me.

The disciples were straining very hard to keep the boat afloat. 

Every oar was being used and every man had his seat.  They must work together.  Some were frantically bailing, and a couple gripped the tiller. Considerable effort was being expended but to no avail.  The wind pushed harder against them.  This is perplexing.  If you remember, they’re simply trying to obey the command of Jesus to cross the sea. 

Why do things have to be so difficult?

I’m intrigued by believers who expect sunshine, blue sky, and red roses because they are doing God’s will.  They don’t seem to think through the issues of conflict and challenge, weakness and humility.

“It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Doing the will of God will often mean that there will be a headwind directly at us.
 

The seas will become impossible, and we may even be driven back.  But special comfort comes when we realize we’re being watched.  Jesus is doing constant surveillance on us, and He sees our toil on the oars. He comes to us, walking on the water.

Even in our storm, our hearts can rejoice.

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”

Matthew 28:20

 

Against the Cosmic Powers

Perfectly safe.

  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and   blood, but against the rulers, against the   authorities, against the cosmic powers over   this present darkness, against the spiritual  forces of evil in the heavenly places”.

Ephesians 6:12, ESV

 Satan attacks us in two distinct and recognizable ways.

First, he stirs up our desires and inflames our appetites for sin. He is very good at this. He knows all about you, and what you like.

Second, he accuses us of committing evil against God. Scripture identifies him as “the accuser of the brethren.” He condemns us as perverse, rebellious, seditious, and evil. “See what an evil wretch you are, your heart is small, black, and hard.”

But the believer will run to the cross, and hold on. He will hear the blood of Jesus cry out for his soul. In this simple act of obedience and faith, he allows Jesus Christ to deliver him/her from the darkness. There is absolutely nothing to be done except this, and this is enough.

My sinfulness can never hold me as a broken believer, as long as have a child’s heart of humility.

I read this the other day.

“And thus I shall always do, whenever you leave me to myself.”

~Brother Lawrence

I cannot fight this dark battle in and of myself. I have neither the armament nor the understanding to take on “cosmic powers”. I must become broken, and weak, and then the Spirit will shelter me. Being manic-depressive can actually be of help. I know my own weakness, and it lays me at the feet of my Lord, with no pretenses of strength.

Romans 8:31-32, The Message reads like this,

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?”

It seems like a dream, but I’m absolutely protected from my tormentors by someone with superpowers. And Scripture makes it clear that this is not far from the truth. God defends us not just because he loves us, he protects us because his reputation is on the line.

“Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture

(verses 33-34, the Message)

Oh struggling saint, you cannot battle alone. Apart from him, you can do nothing. Spiritually, cover yourself with the righteousness of Jesus. Do not venture out against these dark forces, when you have the love of One who cannot fail.

aabryscript

Our Salvation Is Quite Sure

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, the three epistles that he wrote, and of course,  Revelation.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.

aasignLinda

God’s Red Bull

We are told to press in, and to reach. 

We’re to be energized by contact with God’s Spirit.  He fills us up, enables us to run full tilt, stretching and straining.  The muscles in the neck popping out, and lunging for the tape. This is Paul’s understanding of his daily walk.

Paul was an athlete in the Spirit.

These days, developing a spiritual athleticism would not be such a bad idea.  We live in a society where we sit and watch the NFL: there are 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, and they’re surrounded by 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.  We have become a society of observers and that is a shame. 

God loves us, sent his only Son to die for us.  God sets us up with a energy-packed, Red Bull. And I respond with an anemic, 2% milk religion.  And that perhaps is the real tragedy.

There’s a real tendency for entropy as a follower of Jesus.  Things have a real tendency to wind down, and start moving in the opposite direction.  I think all of us can relate to the “Sunday Syndrome.” In this truly wonderful world of fellowship, worship and the Word we seem to come together.  Life is good on a Sunday morning.  And it should be.

But we wind down, and by Thursday we have sinned and compromised a hundred times or more.  Life is not good on a Thursday afternoon.  Because of our mental illness this degradation downward is usually worse.  We experience a whole lot of shame and guilt. And that poisons our spirits.  

Throw into the mix some depression, anxiety, or OCD and it makes consistency even harder.  It’s a challenge to maintain a credible Christian walk. It’s kind of the deflated feeling  four hours after downing three Red Bulls.

Paul, always an interesting fellow, described his own personal walk with Jesus in Philippians 3:10f. in the Message Bible.

10-11I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

 12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this…

...but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. 

Can you really tap into all of that energy? 

Paul is downright aggressive here, he models a “muscular Christianity” that pushes through every obstacle, whether within or without.  Most of our translations use the word “work” when translating “effort”.  The Church fathers used the word “energy” instead.  There is a distinction. 

Energy, or “energize” denotes an outside source for power.  I energize my electric razor when I plug it in at night.  It takes a charge and runs accordingly on demand.

We are told to press in, and to reach. 

We’re to be energized by contact with God’s Spirit.  He fills us up, enables us to run full tilt, stretching and straining.  The muscles in the neck popping out, and lunging for the tape. This is Paul’s understanding of his daily walk.

Paul was an athlete in the Spirit.

These days, developing a spiritual athleticism would not be such a bad idea.  We live in a society where we sit and watch the NFL: there are 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, and they’re surrounded by 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.  We have become a society of observers and that is a shame. 

God loves us, sent his only Son to die for us.  God sets us up with a energy-packed, Red Bull. And I respond with an anemic, 2% milk religion.  And that perhaps is the real tragedy.

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