Step Out of the Boat

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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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Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Be the Change You Want to See

Humanity has a heart condition and is in dire need of a transplant. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives?” (Jeremiah 17:9, The Amplified Bible).

We need to look no further than our everyday lives and history to see the depths of sin and depravity as we try to make sense of the seemingly senseless world around us. Genocide. Racism. Human trafficking. Child abuse. Drug addiction. Discrimination in all of its forms. The complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. The greed, corruption, and indifference that has infected every level of society like a virus.

As we daily hear and see these stories, our spirits and minds can become overwhelmed and we will simply “tune out,” going through the motions of everyday life like a living zombie. These problems, of course, are not unique to our twenty-first century world. However, we do have the ability to affect change where we have been placed in the world, just like a parent who correctly models the behavior they want their child to follow. In order to change our world, we must do the inside work of examining and changing ourselves.

We must demonstrate love to all

No matter the color of our skin, gender, nationality, societal status, or any other external and superficial marker we use to color our world, we are all loved by God. God has loves us with an everlasting love. It is God’s desire for all to come to the saving knowledge of His grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us need a heart transplant. Our Christian walks should be a living demonstration of love. In fact, there is a song lyric that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus even taught His disciples about the importance of love.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35, KJV).

We must “point the finger” at ourselves

My parents taught me that “It’s not nice to point at other people.” Yet, Christians and people in general like to point at others and say, “His sin is worse than mine.” “She lives a wicked lifestyle.” “Well, at least I’m not like him.” It is our human nature to trivialize our sins while magnifying the sins of others. We may go through life with ungratefulness, or gossip, or anger, and say to ourselves, “I’ve never killed anybody.” We become the Pharisee in the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, who extolled his virtues to God and in the same breath put down the tax collector standing next to him. Meanwhile, the tax collector asked God to have mercy on him because he was a sinner. Jesus said the tax collector walked away blessed. Jesus applied this principle in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV).

We must mirror the change we want to see

Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” How we speak and act are mirror images of our inner character or “inner man” as The Bible states. If we want our outside world to change, we must live “outside in.” The Apostle Peter, speaking in the context of a wife being married to an unbelieving husband, states, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:1-4, NIV). Before going further, let me state that Peter is not saying people cannot have fancy hairstyles, nice clothes, or jewelry. Peter is emphasizing the need to wear our Christian virtue and not attempting to win over people with superficial things. If you have spent any length of time in church, you know that Christians have tendency to use “churchy” terms that the world does not understand. We certainly can look the part, but if our belief has no real power in our lives, then we are simply actors playing a role. The world is looking for something authentic. The world wants to know that God is real. If there is no love behind sharing our faith, then we are basically giving people a list of “dos and don’ts” and pointing out every speck of sawdust on them, which would drives the lost further away from God. Deep theology may impress some people, but people primarily want to know that you love and care about them in the midst of their struggle. A spiritual mentor of mine once said, “Nobody cares about what you know until they know you care.”

When we wake up and as we go through our day, let us examine ourselves, as Paul says, to see if we are in the faith. Are our thoughts lining up with the Word? Have we showed love to someone? Have we cleansed our hearts and consciences? Are we judging ourselves before we go and try to fix the world? When the pressure is on, what is on the inside will come out. Make sure what is inside is what you want others to see. God bless you all.

 

Going All In for the Journey

When the Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico in 1519, history states Cortes instructed his men to “burn the ships.” Imagine for a moment what must have gone through the minds of Cortes’ crew. The crew was thousands of miles from home in a hostile land with no escape plan. There was no turning back; there would be no retreat. At that moment, Cortes’ crew was forced to go “all in” on the journey.

The apostles Andrew, Peter, James, and John did not burn their ships, they simply left them to follow Jesus.

“As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fisherman. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow him.” (Mark 1:16-20, NASB).

These four men, who were fisherman by trade, walked away from their livelihoods and immediately followed Jesus. Of course, the Bible commands us to work and to take care of our families. However, how much does your job consume you? Do material possessions have more of a hold on us than we have a hold of Christ? Are we like the rich young ruler, who followed all of the commandments and wanted to follow Jesus, but was too attached to his possessions?

If we can shed our material attachment, our journey with God can still come with its share of difficulties as we try to live as Christians in a world growing more hostile to the things of God. There may come a time where we may consider the cost of following Christ and look back with pain, but God will always give us back so much more than we could every give up.

“The Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.’” (Matthew 19:27-29, NASB).

Once we have decided to fully follow Christ, there is no going back to our old way of life because it will simply not work and be unfruitful. Consider the actions of Peter in John chapter 21. Jesus has risen from the dead and had appeared to His disciples multiple times. However, Peter decides to go fishing, along with Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples. The experienced fishermen do not catch any fish after what must have been a long night. Jesus then appears on the beach and tells the disciples where to catch the fish, and they catch multitudes of fish. Jesus and Peter have a conversation, where Jesus reiterates for Peter to follow Him. Jesus also tells Peter that he will one day die for his testimony. This is the point where Peter’s journey changed. Just weeks after this discussion, Peter stood up at Pentecost, full of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the Gospel and 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:14-41).

Just as God did an amazing work in the life of the Apostle Peter, so too He wants to do a work in you. This journey may be long and difficult, but the Lord will be with you each step of the way. God has given us all that we need- His Son, His Holy Spirit, and His Word. We must seek out the Lord and allow Him to prepare us for the work ahead. We must be willing and obedient in order to hear from the Lord. We must remember that our sufficiency is not in anything the world has to offer or even in our own abilities. Our sufficiency is found in Christ and in Christ alone.

Enduring Trials and Tribulations With Patience

In Acts 14, we read about Paul and Barnabas going through persecution in the cities of Iconium and Lystra. It was in the city of Lystra that Paul was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead. However, the next day Paul and Barnabas continued preaching the Gospel in the city of Derbe and later returned to Iconium, Lystra, and Antioch, where they encouraged believers. In Acts 14:22, we read that Paul and Barnabas were, “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (KJV).

The word tribulation can mean such things as affliction, suffering, persecution, or trials. To one degree or another, every believer in Christ will face trials and tribulations as we walk in the midst of a world that is turning away from God. There are brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are being persecuted by terrorist groups and oppressive governments. Maybe your trial is an illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one, whatever it is our Lord is close by to comfort all who are brokenhearted.

     I have heard it said by well-meaning Christians, “Never pray for patience because it brings on a trial.” However, the above Scripture and further Scripture study refute that saying. The connection between praying for patience and the onset of trials has no Scriptural basis, much like the saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Just as God allowed the suffering of Christ for our sins, the trials of Job, and the persecution of the early church, so too does He allow trials to come into our lives. The key to facing and overcoming these trials is patience.

     The Greek word used the most for patience in the New Testament is the word, hupomone (Strong’s #5281), which means “cheerful, endurance, constancy; an abiding under.” Even in today’s at your fingertips instant world, God still requires believers to be patient in all circumstances, whether good or bad. We must remember that when we face a trial, God is developing our long-term character. To use a sports analogy, God wants to build a team of marathon runners, not sprinters. The New Testament teaches us the importance and necessity of patience.

We develop patience through the study of God’s Word

     [Speaking of sowing the Word of God] “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15, KJV).

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, KJV).

“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” (James 5:10, KJV).

Patience allows us to endure afflictions and tribulations

     “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation; Know this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4, KJV).

     “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5, KJV).

     “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19, KJV).

God teaches us patience so we can become more Christ-like.

    “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering  with joyfulness.” (Colossians 1:10-11, KJV).

     “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father. Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4, KJV).

     “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8, KJV).

          Patience keeps us focused on the eternal rewards we have in Christ

     “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5, KJV).

     “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:34-36, KJV).

     “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” (Revelation 14:12-13, KJV).

     Brothers and sisters, we need to pray for patience to endure and overcome the trials we face and what is coming upon this world. There will be upcoming tribulation the Church will have to endure. We must be eagerly awaiting the return of our Lord and King Jesus Christ, who will set everything right when He establishes His Millennial reign and when he vanquishes Satan and the curse of sin and death once and for all. If we lose our patience, we can be in danger of losing sight of Christ, as did the churches rebuked by the Lord in the Book of Revelation. Brothers and sisters, we must also remember this world is not our home, we are merely pilgrims passing through onto an eternal paradise greater than we can imagine.