Faith and Presumption

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I was staying at my parents’ condo a few weeks ago and borrowed my mom’s Bible. She writes in the margins, making her Bible all the more precious and insightful. Here is the passage I was reading from Matthew 14:25-33. (Underlining mine.)

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Here is the note Mom had penned in the margin: “Peter knew he could not walk on the water unless Jesus told him to.”

Peter asked Jesus to call him out onto the water, and then he waited for Christ’s command. We can, in our own pride and presumption, begin to consider ourselves to be in charge of—responsible for—far too much. Our God is an awesome God, ready to help us accomplish great things, but not all things. We are wise to seek his will and keep our efforts within his calling.

Secondly, if we doubt or fail, all is not lost. Yes, Peter sank. But he also walked. And he was still brought back into the boat by the Lord.

What are you considering this week? Pray. Seek the counsel of a good friend and of the Bible and of God’s still small voice. Don’t take on some challenge just because it is there. It may be meant for another. But, if you are convinced that God is calling you to some task, step out of the boat! Our Lord won’t let you drown.

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Shrek the Sheep

 

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You’ve probably seen the movies, may even have read the book, but have you heard about the sheep? Yes, Shrek is also the name of a famous sheep…on the other side of the world…New Zealand, to be exact, where the sheep population outnumbers the humans six to one.

We can safely assume that New Zealand shepherds are far smarter than their sheep. Thus, their sheep are best off cooperating with the one in charge. However, in the late 1990’s, Shrek the Renegade Sheep thought he had a better idea. Shrek decided he no longer wanted to be shorn. This was a foolish decision on the part of the renegade.

  • Long fleece can lead to overheating, limited mobility, and even disease.
  • Shearing also keeps older dirty wool from contaminating new growth.

Evidently none of that mattered to Shrek or, more likely, he simply wanted his own way and didn’t know any better. Big mistake! Want to know how big? Take a look at this photo. This is Shrek after hiding in caves, successfully avoiding six years of annual shearing.

Now, I ask you, does that look like a happy, healthy animal? When he was finally caught and shorn, the wool removed weight 60 pounds, enough to make 20 large men’s suits. Talk about carrying around extra baggage!

Are we ever Shrek-like? You bet.

  • When the Shepherd is ready to remove what we no longer need, or might even do us harm, how often do we balk, hide, or refuse to our own detriment?
  • When have we tried to hold on to what keeps us from healthy spiritual growth?

Surely we are always better off trusting the wisdom of our Shepherd, fully cooperating with the One in charge.

The next time I’m tempted to balk at what God is asking, I’m going to remember Shrek the Renegade, no make that, Miserable Looking Sheep and choose the Shepherd’s way over my own.

 

 

Police and Paramedics

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We are plugged into a church, and a Sunday school class to boot! I know some of you have been praying for Steve and me during this time of settling in, so thank you very much.

Here’s a catchy but convicting quote I heard last Sunday. “We often find too many police and not enough paramedics in the church.”

Huh? Allow me to explain. The lesson was on the importance of peace within the church. We can be so quick to quarrel, to forget that we are all children of our Lord and called to serve him together. Sometimes we even wrap our petty gripes in that thinly veiled phrase, “We need to pray about so-and-so.” This week’s lesson was filled with flipping, with turning from one convicting Bible verse to another, all pleading with us to stop our fussing. It’s that odd quote, though, that stuck with me.

Police: When called to the scene of a crime, it’s their job to find out who is wrong, who is the culprit, who fell out of line. Is there an arrest to be made? Potential punishment to be planned?

Paramedics: When called into service, it’s their job to look for who is hurt, who might need their life-saving attention. Where can they administer help and healing?

Now let’s take another look at that quote: “We often find too many police—the accusers, the ones looking for offense—and not enough paramedics—those waiting for a chance to bind wounds and bring comfort—in the church.”

The church, of course, doesn’t mean the church building. It means all those who call themselves a part of the community of believers. It’s time for us all to ask ourselves: Are we police or paramedics? Yes, perhaps we need both, but most of us would do well to focus on bringing peace and healing, overlooking the offenses so often of little true consequence.

Challenged? Yep, me too. But before I close, allow me to point out two favorite hymns shared by readers who missed my original deadline:

“Fairest Lord Jesus” also known as “Beautiful Savior” ends with this verse:

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!

Son of God and Son of Man!

Glory and honor, praise, adoration,

Now and forever more be Thine.

And

“Because He Lives,” by Bill and Gloria Gaither.

You can listen to that one here:

The Barnabas Bunch

ewm-coverToday I’ll be sharing an essay by my mom about a famous encourager. But first, let me encourage you to check out Every Wednesday Morning by Beth Smith. If you want a copy for yourself, or want to give a few copies as Christmas gifts, you can find Every Wednesday Morning here on Etsy. It’s a collection of 65 weekly devotionals that will encourage you, challenge you, and make you laugh all at the same time. If you grab a copy, be sure to let me know what you think!

Now, back to The Barnabas Bunch by Beth Smith.

Acts 4:36 tells of a man named Joseph who encouraged the early church so much that they nicknamed him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Barnabas lived up to his name. He encouraged the apostles to accept Paul, and he encouraged the new believers in Antioch to stay true to their faith.

We can be great encouragers as well. I’d like to invite you to join my new club, the Barnabus Bunch. But like any club, we have a few by-laws.

  1. We promise not to give prideful encouragement by building ourselves up, or by saying, “If you’d do what I did …” with a superior attitude. 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV) says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (So no puffin’ allowed.)
  2. We promise not to build up and tear down at the same time, sort of like the old southern cliché of saying something rotten but ending the sentence with “bless her heart.” We will concentrate on words that really do build others up.
  3. We promise to consider these questions before giving encouragement:

Will it help develop faith and hope?

Does it promote peace?

Is it spoken in love?

Will it bless the person receiving it?

Paul describes the perfect attitude of an encourager in Romans 15, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV). You can bear with my doubts and fears and weaknesses and use the strengths you have in those areas to encourage me. In turn, I use my strengths where you may be weak to build you up. We do this, not to please ourselves, but to show our love for each other. And it’s God who gives us the ability to be encouragers, even as he encourages us.

If you agree to the three rules listed, then welcome to the Barnabus Bunch! Here’s the club motto. (I hope you’ll memorize it and say it often.)

“Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV).

Activate your new membership by encouraging someone today. You’ll find you are encouraged yourself as you help someone else. May God make each of us sensitive to the needs of others, and may he use us to express his love.

Humbled by Hospitality

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Last week’s definition of hospitality looked like this:

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

So here’s this week’s question: How much does that definition relate to elaborate food, a perfectly clean home, and ready-to-converse information on the hottest news events? If you answered, “Very little,” then you and I are on the same page.

Steve and I spent many years opening our home to young people. They never cared if the carpet needed vacuuming. (In fact, it made more sense to vacuum after they left.) As for food, we called them the locusts (sorry, guys!), because any sort of leftover was fair game. No matter what we set out on our counters, they swept in and ate it all. And as to conversation, they didn’t care so much about what we said as they did about what we asked and how closely we listened when they answered. I thought the ease of entertaining them had to do with their youth. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps adults would be just as pleased with an invitation to enjoy simple, relaxed hospitality as all those teenagers were.

Am I suggesting that we welcome guests into a dirty home and serve whatever falls out of our refrigerators when we open them? Not exactly, but how about this. Let’s help revive a culture of hospitality within our circle—and open that circle widely whenever possible.  Let’s stop allowing “I’m busy” to reduce our connections to a quick voicemail or two. What if we were all more willing to tidy up one room, ignore the dust bunnies, and welcome a friend, neighbor or lonely teen to come and play a game of cards? Or perhaps we could share a simple supper without chagrin. Nobody cares that much about what’s on the table when guests are received with respect and a desire for relationship.

This sort of hospitality requires a certain degree of humility, a willingness to let friends and neighbors peek around the corners of our busy lives into our imperfections. So what if they see a haphazard stack of bills, laundry, or dishes? So what if all we have to offer is a can of soup or some scrambled eggs? There is a time for well-planned parties, but we can practice hospitality even when time is short. Chances are that those we welcome into our own kitchens and living rooms aren’t leaving behind circumstances much different from our own.