Step Out of the Boat

silhouette photography of boat on water during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

To start off the new year, my church is doing a 90 Days with Jesus Bible study, where we read one chapter of a Gospel each day Monday through Saturday. One of this week’s readings I found intriguing was Matthew 14:22-32.

Matthew 14:22-32 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus earlier in the day had taught, healed, and miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the events of the day, Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He prayed late into the night on a mountainside.

While the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up on the lake. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, but they were fearful, saying,”It’s a ghost.”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).

“But Jesus immediately said to them:”Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NIV).

Peter throughout the Gospels is often portrayed as the most impulsive disciple in the group, as he often speaks and acts without thinking, is not waiting for Jesus to come to him, as he says:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”(Matthew 14:28, NIV).

“Come,” He (Jesus) said. (Matthew 14:29, NIV).

Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. However, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and notices the storm around him, in which he begins to sink. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, which he does, and rebukes Peter for his lack of faith. The wind dies down and the two men get into the boat, where all of the disciples worship Jesus, proclaiming Him the Son of God.

In my twenty years of being a Christian, I’ve heard this story taught numerous times. The teaching always boils down to rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in taking his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, of course did so, but what if were to look at the story from a different perspective?

The text tells us that only Peter called out to the Lord and went out on the water- not James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, or anybody else-only Peter got out of the boat. Yes, maybe Peter’s thought process was rash, but he was the only one who stepped out. Peter took a literal step of faith when no one else would. I would like to think over time, Peter internalized the times he fell short with Jesus and it strengthened his faith.  The Book of Acts tells us it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed the Gospel, to which 3,000 souls were saved. Not bad for a fishermen who couldn’t walk on water.

What I glean from this story is that no matter the obstacle around us, we must be willing to take the first steps toward change. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face the possibility we will not get it right the first time. This lesson can be applied in any aspect of our lives. Are you wanting to get back out and date after a divorce or break-up? We must step out. Are you changing your diet and exercising to improve your health? You have to get started. Are you trying to advance or change your career? You must take the steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

If we seek to grow deeper in our relationship with God, Jesus is telling us “Come,” the same as He did with Peter. Jesus could have easily teleported Peter out of the boat, but He didn’t. Jesus watched Peter make the effort to come to Him. Remember this day that Jesus is in the midst of your storm, but you have to take the steps. God bless you.

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Unplug from the Noise

The everyday noises of life are often a shrill cacophony of discord rather than the harmonious and beautiful sounds of a symphony. From the moment we wake up, we are seemingly bombarded by the alarm clock, relationship or health problems, arguing children, barking dogs, honking horns stuck in traffic, bombastic talking heads on the news, the boss coming down on you- all of which equally frustrating. Our minds are overstimulated, but our souls and spirits are malnourished. How can we push aside the external demands and feed what the Apostle Paul referred to as “the inner man”?

I love to travel and go on vacation. I also read to relax. However, if you manage to get away from it all, whether via trip or prose, you do eventually have to come back. Problems could arise on the trip or be the first one to welcome you back. What if we could be selfish with just a little bit of our time- ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes and unplug? No demands. No phone. No social media. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had to get away from time to time. Christ is God in the flesh, but He was also man. As a man, His body was subject to fatigue from the demands on His life and time. Not only did Jesus carry the burden of having to surrender His life for the sins of humanity, He also dealt with a hostile religious establishment, Rome, the political implications of being the Messiah, leading a group of disciples who were infighting for the best seat in the kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons-even confronting Satan himself. Jesus would often escape the fighting disciples, the demanding crowds, the religious teachers, and pray on mountain.

“And when He had sent them [the disciples] away, He departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46, KJV, brackets mine).

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, KJV).

All four Gospels record instances of Jesus spending time alone on a mountain, which either proceeded or followed a big decision or miracle (choosing the disciples, walking on the water, feeding a multitude, etc).

It is not necessary to travel to a far away land to accomplish this. Start where you are and make it a practice. Pray, read a chapter of the Bible, enjoy beautiful worship music, or just sit in a dark and quiet room, drown out the crowd and reconnect with God.  So if the Lord Jesus took the time to renew His body, mind, and spirit, shouldn’t we do the same?

 

 

Do Your Best and Let it Be

Maybe it’s a by-product of being anxiously driven, but when I have a day or weekend off, my thoughts shift to a different type of work. As soon as the work day is done, my mind shifts into “to do list” mode and I give myself a list of projects- minor home repair, car maintenance, yard work, and other projects that I haven’t had time to get around to doing. I try to squeeze so much into the day that I am just as tired when I get back to work. Though I am well aware of this, I find it to be a hard habit to break.

I suspect that is a problem for many of us- we spend more time living as “human doings” instead of human beings.

For many people with anxiety, planning a social event such as a wedding, dinner party, or even a simple family cookout can be a daunting chore. Is the house clean enough? Do I have enough food? Are there enough chairs for everyone? Oh, it looks like rain. I hope everyone’s on their best behavior. What if Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics again?

As thoughts such as these may race into someone’s mind, these are all easily fixable. More than likely, the house is fine. I’m sure your guest aren’t going to give you “the white glove treatment.” You can always ask guest to bring food or extra seating. If it rains, move the party inside. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics, kindly change the subject. You have done the best you could, let it be.

Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42) records a situation similar to what I just described.

Jesus and His disciples were invited for dinner by a woman named Martha. Martha had a sister named Mary and a brother named Lazarus, whom Jesus would later raise from the dead.

Martha was in the kitchen preparing the meal and called for Mary to help her out. However, the Bible states that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She [Martha] came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).

Notice what Jesus replied to Martha: “‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).

Jesus knew that Martha was speaking from anxiety and even pointed that out to her. Jesus essentially told Martha, “the amount of food you made will be enough.” While Martha was worried about a temporal things such as food, Mary was focused on being in Jesus’ presence and learning about the spiritual and eternal things that would sustain her long after the meal would was finished.

In previous blogs, I have detailed my battles with Celiac disease and anemia. A little over two years ago, I spent three days in the hospital receiving blood transfusions and iron supplements because I was so anemic. Three doctors independently told my wife that I could of had a fatal heart attack. God told me to slow down. With the overall business of life, anxiety and bouts of depression, I still find it difficult to slow down, but I am making progress.

I know what lies before me for the day, but I try to make it a priority to feed my spiritual man before I begin my day-through prayer, reading, writing, focusing only on the present moment, or listening to some quiet instrumental music. At the end of the day, I try, though I am not always successful, to let things be. If you did the best you could at the time with the information you had, you couldn’t have done anything else given the circumstances. If you know that you could have done better, don’t beat yourself up, just make a mental note, ask God for forgiveness, and do better. Focus only on today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here. Tomorrow may not even come. Problems will always be here, but don’t let them steal your joy of living this one life you have. God bless you all.

What Seek Ye?

John the Baptist was speaking with two of his disciples when he saw Jesus.

“And looking upon Jesus as He walked, he [John the Baptist] saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!'” (John 1:36, KJV).

At this point in time, John the Baptist had developed quite a following, as he had disciples, people coming to be baptized in the Jordan River, and he had to  answer questions from the religious leaders as to whether or not he was the Messiah. John the Baptist made it very clear that he was not the Messiah, but the one who would proceed the Messiah (John 1:23; Matthew 3:3).

The two disciples (Andrew and presumably John, the writer of the gospel) left John the Baptist and followed after Jesus.

“Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, ‘What seek ye?’ They said unto Him, ‘Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?” (John 1:38, KJV, emphasis mine).

Contrast Jesus’ministry at this point with John the Baptist’s: Jesus had no disciples nor had He performed any miracles, yet, Andrew and John were seeking Him to learn more about Him. Jesus invited the disciples back to His place and they spent the day together.

Although we as finite and fallible humans can misinterpret someone’s true motives, Jesus, being God in the flesh, could quickly see a person’s true motivations. Another way Jesus could have asked the question “What seek ye?” could be “What do you want from me?” Jesus did not rebuke John and Andrew, thus their motives were true.

John and Andrew sought to be taught by Jesus and they wanted to see how and where He lived. In essence, John and Andrew wanted to see if Jesus’ lifestyle lined up with His words. If John and Andrew were going to leave the familiar teaching of John the Baptist for Jesus, they wanted to make sure Jesus “practiced what He preached.”

The question, “What seek ye?” should give us pause and allow ourselves to do some deep soul searching. I believe it is vital for our spiritual, mental, and physical health to check ourselves and ask, “Why am I doing this?” “Is this what I really want?” “Why did I make this choice at the exclusion of other options?” “Is this worth the price I am paying in time and energy?”

One of the Greek words for seek is Zeteo (Strong’s #2212), can be used to indicate searching for knowledge or meaning, or plotting against someone. However, Zeteo can indicate an ideal for which we “seek or strive after, endeavor, to desire.” I believe that John and Andrew were seeking after that endeavor greater than themselves. It is an inherit human need to be part of something greater than ourselves, and Jesus offers us the greatest endeavor: to strive to be more like Him and to live each day for Him.

“Therefore take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33-34, KJV).

“Ask, and it shall be given you; see, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7, KJV).

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24, KJV).

God bless you all.

 

 

 

The Competition within Ourselves 

Competitiveness is ingrained in our DNA. There are people who dedicate themselves to being the best in raising a family, their profession, their sport; Businesses compete for shelf space and market share within a global economic framework. However, in the pursuit of excellence and drive to be number one, how far are you willing to go? At what cost are you willing to claim victory?

“Really, what profit is there for you to gain the whole world and lose yourself in the process?” (Mark 8:36, The Voice).

What if I told you that your competitor is not your friend, family member, colleague, or rival team? What if you are not in competition with the company across the street or across the globe? You are your biggest competitor. You have to live with the results of the process. Long after the cheering has stopped and the dust has settled on the trophy, you will still have to look at yourself in the mirror. As Christians and as everyday people, we must take inventory and assess if we are putting forth the effort to be better than we were yesterday. I am not emphasizing a religious works mindset, but can we walk away from the day knowing we put in our best effort?

If we want to improve ourselves, we must focus on what is within our control. We must focus on the business we need to do. We cannot waste precious time in worrying about what other people are doing or what they will think of us. Unfortunately, we will never have ideal circumstances in the competition of life, but we must compete with what we have. All of us have to run our race well.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of competing in a race in describing our Christian walk. Paul also explains how we should run the race and our objective.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV).

Our resolve to run our race must begin in our spirit. It is vitally important for an athlete to be in peak physical shape, but the athlete must also be mentally strong. We must lean on the guidance of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and applying God’s word to our lives in order to renew our minds.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16, NKJV).

“Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Colossians 1:11, NKJV).

It is of monumental importance that we stay the course in this life. We must do our best despite the circumstances. We must be willing to examine ourselves and truthfully claim that we stuck it out. When we come to the end of our lives, can we say we finished the course as Paul did (2 Timothy 4:7)?

Athletes compete for rings and trophies, we must compete with ourselves to receive our prizes, which are the crowns we will lay at Jesus’ feet:

The results, which are our joy and crown- Philippians 4:1.

The crown of rejoicing- 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

The crown of righteousness- 2 Timothy 4:8.

The crown of life- James 1:12, Revelation 2:10.

The crown of glory- 1 Peter 5:4.

The prize of the high calling of God- Philippians 3:14.

All of us have a limited amount of time to live on this earth, so let us dedicate the rest of that time to strive and be the best people we can be. Let us stand as strong pillars in the midst of the crumbling façade that is the modern world. God bless you all.

 

Jesus, Zacchaeus, and the road to Jericho

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, there are news reports, talk shows, magazines, websites, and social media dedicated to celebrity lives. People perceive the wealth and fame of athletes, movie stars, musicians, and people who are simply famous for being famous as glamorous and try to live vicariously through them. The celebrity’s fans put them on a pedestal as if they were an idol, but later become fickle with their support when said celebrity suffers some type of setback in their life or fails to hold their interest because it is on to the newest sensation.

What kind of crowds would Jesus attract today? I suspect He would attract crowds just as He did when He walked the earth- people in need of prayer, deliverance, guidance, healing, and salvation. I also believe Jesus would still encounter skeptics, critics, scorners, scoffers, and people who were simply curious to learn what the fuss was all about. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of one such onlooker, a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ story is found in Luke 19:1-10.

Jesus was getting ready to pass through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, where He soon be praised with shouts of “Hosanna,” betrayed, arrested, put on trial, crucified, die, and rise from the dead.

Luke gives us a brief glimpse into Zacchaeus’ background:

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” (Luke 19:2, NIV)

Luke also gives us details in to Zacchaeus’ motivations:

“He [Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” (Luke 19:3-4, NIV).

However, Zacchaeus’ curiosity was about to lead to his salvation. Zacchaeus made a decision to stand out from the crowd and it lead to him being noticed by Jesus.

“When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6, NIV).

Luke contrasts Zacchaeus’ actions with the crowd’s reaction:

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7, NIV).

In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were judged as being corrupt and sinful. The Roman Empire would employ local men to collect taxes from citizens. Tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and Matthew were Jews by birth and were seen to be traitors, as they collected taxes from their fellow Jews in order to support a pagan government. Some tax collectors would even collect more than the tax amount and pocket the difference for themselves.

How would you respond if Jesus called you out of the crowd by name and wanted to have dinner at your house? Jesus is calling all of us out of the crowd, out of the noise that makes up modern life. Jesus wants our heart. If Jesus calls us, we must respond with our hearts and spirits, for Jesus will transform us as he transformed a short and wealthy tax collector who was despised by his town.

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10, NIV).

What is interesting is that the name Zacchaeus means “clean, pure.” At that one moment when Zacchaeus climbed one particular tree on one particular stretch of road, with one encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, and finally lived up to his name.

The question now becomes what are you “short” on today? Love? Patience? Forgiveness? Character?  Has your life been one long tale of pain, loss, or tragedy? Do you think that you have fallen so far that you will never get up? Are you tormented by sin, fear, or failure? Jesus wants you to seek Him out. It doesn’t matter if you are in a sycamore tree, a cave, a mountain, or a pit, seek Jesus where you are at and salvation will come to your house today. God bless you all.

 

 

The Prodigal’s Brother

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son if you prefer), which illustrate God’s grace and the lengths He will go to save lost souls. Jesus’ audience represented a spiritual dichotomy of sinners and tax collectors with Pharisees and scribes. Jesus spoke these three parables as a response to the criticism leveled by the Pharisees and scribes of how Jesus sat in the company of sinners. We will look more specifically at the story of the Prodigal Son.

The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar one to Christians and the phrase “prodigal son” is used as a euphemism to describe someone who has wandered away and returned. There are two brothers and the youngest brother goes to his father and demands his share of his inheritance, while his father was alive. Typically, an inheritance can only be received once someone has died. The father, knowing the social meaning of his son’s request, and divided his estate among both brothers.

In a tale similar to today’s news reports of celebrities, actors, and athletes squandering king’s fortunes and going bankrupt, the Prodigal Son partied like a “rock star” and blew all of his money. It was all gone. The Prodigal was busted, broke, and bankrupt. A famine soon after came upon the land and the Prodigal was hungry and desperate. The Prodigal went from living “high on the hog” so to speak, to literally the hog pen as he had to get a job feeding swine. The Prodigal comes to his senses and decides to go back home to his father, not as a son, but as a servant.

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20-21, NKJV).

The story then pivots on the contrasting reactions of the father and oldest brother.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:22-24, NKJV).

The older brother was working in the field and heard the party taking place. The father explained that they are having a party for his brother who has returned home. The older brother refused to go to the party and justified his actions to his father:

“So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I could make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’” (Luke 15:29-30, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The older brother’s statements consist of “I have done this, I have done that.” “Where’s my party?” I stayed here and did what was expected of me.” The older brother refuses to acknowledge his brother, simply calling him “this son of yours.” It is certainly easy to read self-righteousness into the older brother’s statements, but does he on some level have a point?

Everybody has worth and wants to be appreciated. Nursing homes are full of sick and elderly people who simply want someone to spend a few minutes with them. Parents want to know that their children appreciate their sacrifices for them to have a better life. Dedicated and faithful employees want to know that their work is appreciated and serves a greater purpose than getting a paycheck. This is not about vanity or seeking the approval of others, but we want to know we are on the right track and we are making an impact in life.  If we do not perceive that we are appreciated, then we get discouraged, which leads to self-righteous comparison when we see “someone less qualified or deserving” get the blessing we seek.

The older brother could have gone off on his own adventures, but he chose to stay home. The older brother was wise and responsible with his money and continued to work. However, when we grow discontent with our situations in life, we often overlook the tremendous blessings we do have. At the end of the story, the father gives the oldest son a different perspective on the situation:

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NKJV).

The older brother has always been in the presence of the father and he also received his share of the inheritance, while the younger brother wandered from the father. Though the older brother did not see a physical reward for his service to his father, his father did notice his faithfulness. The older brother did not perceive that he had his father’s approval. The same principle applies for those of us who have been saved for many years in that we often lose the meaning of having our Father’s presence in our lives at the expense of what God’s presence means for others.

We should serve God and others with a servant’s heart, but we must not make the mistake of the older brother and serve with a “religious works” mindset. If we see serving God as a means to an end, we will lose the perspective that we are sons and daughters of God and not simply servants. Let us not try to value ourselves by any fleeting external measures such as money, recognition, titles, or family status. Instead, let us see ourselves first as children of God and draw our worth from there. God bless you all.