The Call to Worship

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands…
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
Psalm 115:4,8

Corporate worship is designed to embed your story in the larger story of redemption, so you’ll always place your hope in the grace of Jesus. ~ Paul David Tripp

In writer/director Christopher Nolan’s 2000 haunting movie Memento, the feature character is a man named Leonard. This is a tragic character in the classic Greek sense of that word.

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is a man who is struggling to put his life back together after the brutal murder of his wife. But Leonard’s problems are different from those of most people in his situation; he was beaten severely by the same man who killed his wife. The most significant manifestation of Leonard’s injuries is that his short-term memory has been destroyed; he is incapable of retaining any new information, and must resort to copious note-taking and Polaroid photographs in order to keep track of what happens to him over the course of a day (he’s even tattooed himself with a few crucial bits of information he can’t get along without).

Leonard is a tragic character because he can’t remember his story.

In many ways Leonard is a picture of many of us and the times in which we live. We are a people that don’t have a clear picture of our story.

Scientist have validated what various cultures have known for years: In order for each of us to make sense of our lives we all live with some sort of meta narrative, some form of story of the world that shapes how we live and our choices in day-to-day life.

This is what a story answers for us. And we can’t live without a sense of our story. But often, like the character Leonard, we try to stitch together moments, snapshots and ideas to try to have a narrative that helps to make some sense of our lives.

Our faith is a story of what the living Creator of all of reality has done to form, love, rule and rescue us and the entire cosmos in the person of Jesus Christ.

worshipAnd when I drive up the dirt driveway that leads to our church, walk into the building and sing songs and pray prayers, I am telling this story. When we participate in worship week-by-week we are celebrating, enacting and telling the story of rescue, redemption, and restoration by our Creator God of the cosmos. By doing these acts and elements we are sinking the story deeply into our lives and creating soul-memories.

And what I learn from the ancient poems of the Bible is that we all worship—something or someone. For atheism is not the opposite of worship, idolatry is.

The late author David Foster Wallace was asked to deliver a commencement at Kenyon college in May of 2005. By no means is he a believer. But he shares some powerful insights into the concept of worship in that address.

Here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Worship is our default setting. And we always become like what we worship. So, when we worship something other than the Living God ultimately it will only degrade and dehumanize us.

A simple diagnostic to asses who or what I am worshipping is to try to imagine what would cause me to come completely undone if I lost it. Everyone loses loved ones and things in life—we all do. And it hurts. But what is it in my life that if it is threatened with loss causes me to panic? What do I turn to for comfort when it feels like my life is falling apart? What are the things in my life that if I didn’t have them would make me feel like I weren’t a person anymore?

The ancient book that we love suggests that we give our heart-allegiance to the One who created us.

God created everything that is. He made God’s dimension of reality and ours. The living, free, sovereign God is the One who stitched together the tectonic plates that lie at the floor of the oceans. He is the one who thought up the majestic elk, the gentle dove and the weird duckbill platypus. He is the One who hand-placed the over billion stars in our galaxy and the billion or more galaxies in our universe. And He is the God who has shaped every atom, neutron, quark and string at the sub-atomic level. And He is the God who knows every freckly age spot and hair follicle of your body and mine.

God is our creator. That’s why we worship Him.

We not only worship Him because He is our creator, we worship Him because he is our rescuer.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.

God rescues us even when we are good as gone. We worship a God who has rolled up His divine sleeves, gotten his hands dirty rescuing a sin and death-ravaged creation. God “mixes it up” with real people in real places to save us from ourselves. Even in all of our mess and brokenness He shields us, protects us and helps us.  He marks us with His love and blesses us.

And what we have in the Bible is an epic story of God doing exactly that with people like you and I down through the ages until He finally helps, rescues, and blesses us once and for all in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

I love the story of when a missionary described the God of the universe as found in Jesus to a Chinese woman for the first time. As she heard the missionary describe Jesus her eyes filled with tears and then she said, “I always knew there ought to be a God like that somewhere, I just didn’t know His name.”

And so, dear reader, immerse yourself in the story of Jesus week-by-week and find healing for your broken soul.

Now that you know His name, perhaps you will find yours.

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Slow Healing

 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.  (Genesis 1:30)

I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them. ~ God (Hosea 11:3)

We had bruised hips, blistered feet and various scrapes and cuts; battle wounds with the mountain. Our destination is a remote alpine lake. It is a talisman for me, a place of reverence. Some of the glory bestowed upon the lake is due to its rugged beauty and some is because it is the headwater for many myths that have shaped my life.

To say it is elemental and formative to my life as a human being on this earth would be accurate. At age thirteen on my first trip to the lake, I moved from being a boy into the awareness of what it meant to be a man. Over the next many decades, I took many friends and family into this sacred place.

cRESTONEThe lake is cupped in an alpine cirque as if treasured by the right hand of God. Surrounded by thousand foot cliffs that crumble into talus and scree right into the cobalt blue water; and at other places the slope is gentle enough for shallow top soil to find purchase. The dark loam, however thin, is rich enough to grow lush mountain grass, skunk cabbage, cinquefoil, and giant dandelions. Colorado blue spruce lace one end of the lake like giant fingers holding the water in place.

Our group believed in “leaving no trace” while in the wilderness. I was struck at how little had changed in the two decade since we had tried to clean up the careless mess of others. The lake shore was pock-marked with dark charcoal fire-rings. Rusty tin cans, plastic and other trash littered old campsites and even hung in the trees. So, we decided to leave one clearly visible and accessible campsite with a fire-ring and clean up the others.

Carefully we cut the sod and laid it to one side. Digging down beneath the top soil to the gravel base, we then buried charred pieces of wood and any organic items we could find.

Wounds

Wounds

The bottles, cans, and plastics we packed out. We replaced the sod and watered the area making many trips to the lake with our single liter bottles. We offered a prayer of dedication asking our Creator-God to bless the efforts to right the environmental wrongs of others.

We wanted to honor the Creator we felt so close to in this remote wilderness. But we also did it because we wanted the place to look better for our own enjoyment. Maybe we even wanted to teach a lesson of what it means to honor the land to others who would come to the lake.

So why was it so easy for me to find the restored area two decades after our efforts at environmental restoration? Did we do it wrong? I think no. What struck me as I stood at that place beside the lake was this: in spite of our best efforts, some eco systems are extraordinarily fragile and healing takes a long time.

Sadly, I could still see the outline of the trench. The sod stood like clumps of green braille on brown ground. Honestly, the area where we buried the refuse looked more like a grave than a place of restoration. I said a prayer, shook my head, and walked away.

It has occurred to me that our souls are much like the fragile eco system above tree line: remote, strikingly beautiful, and fragile to the carelessness of man. Whether that harm is self-inflicted, neglect, or from others; we scar easily. Restoration takes a long time.

What then? Do we fail to cooperate with God in restoring His world? Do we quit because it takes longer than we want? Do we busy ourselves with some task or project that has a more immediate ROI? No. We must not be so shallow.  Time is tender and tough above tree line. Tender in that it only takes one moment to do generational damage to the land. Tough because it is stubbornly relentless in its process of restoration. It is the same with the restoration of a soul. I must remember that God doesn’t get in a hurry about anything.

Scanning the souls in my relational landscape, I see a charred fire-ring of betrayal here, a pock-marked heart there, and I can’t help myself. I pick up the shards of broken souls, the crumpled cans of discarded dreams, and the burnt wood of moral failures and start the process of cooperating with our God to restore his world, one life at a time. It may take a long time for these marred soul to blend in to the lush land of the Kingdom of Heaven, but what else can I do? Some things are even more precious than water cupped in the hand of God.

You. 

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The Pearl

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.  ~Jesus 

What is the Summum bonum of life; the value above all values? Jesus called it “the Kingdom of Heaven”. What exactly is that?  I believe it is the integration of God’s rule into all reality.  It is living in such a way as to bring the eternal values to bear on the earthly and it is the ability to recognize Kingdom enterprise when it appears.

However, when I put a higher value on non-kingdom merchandise and activities—-spiritual dissonance occurs.  In fact, the elevation of anything exclusive to God’s rule is idolatry.

pearl-great-priceHave you ever made a large purchase and then as you drove it away or drove away from the mortgage company where you signed the countless documents, you begin to get an uneasy feeling?  We call this buyer’s remorse.  I fear I have paid too much for something but now it is too late.  Without exception, I will wind up paying too much when I put ultimate trust in that which is not of God, but in one of God’s creations.

How do we discern our way into recognition of what is and what is not of eternal worth?

Bernard of Clairvaux in On Loving God developed a continuum of successive stages toward real fulfillment.

  • The love of self for self’s sake

    We all begin our journey here. The world revolves around me. We are aware of our needs and nothing else. This is narcissism or egocentric living.  It is how we all started out as infants.

As a teenage boy I lived only for my needs.  I lived a life of extravagant hedonism.  I did what I wanted, when I wanted and with whom I wanted.  I had no care of the damage I was doing those around me.  My life was all about me. (Over the years I have lapsed into that phase more often than I care to count.)

While it is natural and the beginning point of our spiritual journey—-it must be left behind for it will lead to a destructive life.

C. S. Lewis spoke once of being awakened in the middle of the night during his bachelor days and not being able to go back to sleep. It was totally dark and utterly still in his bedroom at Magdalen College. There was no way to perceive anything there outside himself. It was as if he were alone in a vacuous black hole. Suddenly he sat bolt upright in bed, for it dawned on him that such isolation was the logical end of a self-centered life.

“What if,” he found himself asking, “we get in eternity exactly what we’ve lived for in time?” This means if we’ve truly loved others and beauty and ideas and causes beyond ourselves, we shall continue to participate in that realm of richness. But if we’ve lived only for ourselves—if every thought and concern have revolved around the self and the self alone—could it be that all we shall get will be ourselves and nothing else?

Such a condition would amount to total isolation, which is similar to that worst of all punishments, short of capital punishment—namely, solitary confinement. Such a fate cuts across the very heart of what we human beings are and need. To be utterly and totally alone makes even the images of a burning Hell seem mild in comparison.

We’ve no choice about beginning our lives in such self-centeredness, but we do have a choice as to whether or not we remain there.

  • The love of God for Self’s sake.

At this stage there is a growing awareness of realities outside of ourselves. There are other entities, yet the focus is still very much on ourselves.  We love God for all that God can do for us.

The other day I listened to my first sermon from 30 years ago.  I was shocked at what I was saying.  Not only was the delivery halting and stammering, but the perspective was certainly Joe-centered.  I loved God, but for what God was doing for me.  I told stories of only having enough money to wash my clothes in the machines while I was in college and not having enough to dry them.  I would hang the wet clothes all over my dorm room.  I was getting weary of this process, so I prayed and asked God to provide some money to dry my clothes.  I went to the laundry room and checked the empty washing machines and dryers and found enough loose change to dry my clothes.  I said in my sermon that that proved that God was interested in an insignificant college student.

While that is theologically true, it also shows us that I love God for what God was doing for me.  I was loving God for self’s sake.  That is better than loving self for self’s sake, but only that.

What happens when you love God for self’s sake and God doesn’t come through for you like you asked.  What if he doesn’t give you enough money to dry your clothes?  What if he doesn’t heal your brother and he dies anyway?  What if he doesn’t grant your financial wishes and you have to file for bankruptcy?

I will tell you what our temptation is when God doesn’t come through for us like we think He ought: we tend to cut off communication with God.  We pout and pull back from engaging relationship with Him.  While this stage is better than the first stage, it is still manipulative and will ultimately never satisfy all the needs of our heart.

  • The love of God for God’s sake.

This is a love for not what He can do for us, but loving Him for His own intrinsic value.
There are reasons to worship God that have nothing to do with our needs, but only with the wonder of who God is.  God didn’t have to be the way God is, that beautiful wonder of a Being that is too marvelous for human eyes to behold.  But he is more wonderful than words can express and we love to be in his presence.

I remember when my oldest son Cole was about 4 or 5 years old and I was trying to do some writing in my office at home, he came into the room and just stood beside me.  I asked him what he wanted and he said, “Nothing Daddy.  I just want to be with you.”  He could have asked for the world at that point and I would have found a way to get it for him.  It is one of those joy-filled moments that I will forever cherish.

I long to be the kind of man who goes to the presence of the Father and says, “I simply want to be with You and glory in what You are, not in what You can give me.”

If I had been putting this continuum together, I’d have made this the ultimate level. If I could learn to love God for the sake of who God is—wouldn’t that be the pinnacle?  But this wise old saint thought different.

  • The love of self for God’s sake.

I was shocked when I first read that, but as I thought about it, I realized the wisdom.  Who is the most difficult person on the world for you to love?  For me—–it is me.  One of my deepest issues with God goes back to the very first thing He did for me—-create me.

For some reason, the body I have, the mind I have, the broken family system into which I was born—-none of these are easy for me to celebrate.  There is much about my very being that I simply don’t like.

One time during those hellish junior high years my Dad asked me about how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t self-aware enough to be able to answer.  I was silent.  He asked, “Are you self-conscious about the size of your ears?  I know I was when I was your age.”  I thought, “No.  I didn’t realize I had big ears.  Now I am concerned about them.”  But I do remember that I didn’t regard the way I was created as good.

So—-I think Bernard was right when he said that the highest stage of development is when we learn to love self for God’s sake.

When God created all things in Genesis, how did He describe it? “Good, good, very, very, good.” The question is this: Am I a created being? If the answer is yes—-then how does God view me?  “Good, very good.” He has placed a high value on me.

Each one of us, as we were created, is the pearl of great price, believing fulfillment lies in affirming that what God did in creation was good, and letting that become our joy surely as the pearl merchant found joy in what he found.

I am a favored son of the God of the universe.  He loves me as if I were the only person ever created.  He thinks of me as good—-very good.

Part of what Jesus means when he describes the “kingdom of Heaven” is that He longs for the day that I will be able to discern the value what He deems valuable.

The day that happens is the day The Kingdom comes to earth bit by bit and moment by moment.

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Embrace Your Thorn

 …A thorn in the flesh was given to me… And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:7,9

Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to othersThe real question is not “What can we offer each other?” but “Who can we be for each other. ~Henri Nouwen

Many of us spend most of our time denying what most of us know about all of us — we are all broken people. We live in a culture where folks are quite expert at impression management. We do our best to control how others see us.  We dare not let anyone see our true selves.  So we project a hologram image of what we want folks to see and believe about us.  Chief among our projections is strength and competence. But God is not as interested in using our strengths as He is our weakness.  People may not be able to relate to our strengths, but they can relate to our weaknesses.

God specializes in working through the least of us. That has always been God’s way.  When God wanted to start a nation, he didn’t use a young man.  He used 99-year-old Abraham.

When He wanted to deliver His people out of slavery, He didn’t use a strong man.  He used a babe in a basket.

When He wanted those people to conquer Canaan, He didn’t use a George Patton.  He used a very insecure Joshua.

When He wanted to defeat a giant named Goliath, He didn’t use a Hulk Hogan as His champion.  He used a teenage shepherd boy named David.

When He wanted to prepare the way for the coming Savior of the world, He didn’t use a theologian from a seminary.  He used an orphaned preacher named John.

When he wanted to bring His Son into the world, He used a little teenage girl and a feed trough.

When He wanted to choose His leadership team for His ministry, He used semi-literate peasants.

And when He wanted to launch His church, He used a rag-tag group of quitters with no budget and no building.

It’s in human weakness that God shows how strong He is!

thorns-1Own your thorns. The reality is there are no people without thorns, there are just some thorny people in denial. But everybody has thorns.  We need the courage to get real about our thorns – no hiding, no pretending.

People who know you well will not be shocked. They will not say, “You have a thorn? I had no idea, I’m shocked and appalled.”  They’re more likely to say, “I know you have a thorn. I know about thorns in you you don’t even know you have yet. And I love you anyway. And I’ve got some thorns too.”

Embrace your thorns, your brokenness, and then give that broken-self away to others in love.

We have been graced so that we can grace others.  Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving.  We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a hand-shake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.

I am learning that the best I can offer my brothers and sisters is not wise counsel, but rather my open heart and my full attention to the pain throbbing in their souls.  That is another way of describing grace.

But what if I’m not addressing my own wounds appropriately?

Part of what it means to be emotionally intelligent is to be self-aware. Being self-aware is not just knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Those are important, but that is not all “self-aware” means. It means that I am fully aware of how I affect those around me; that I am cognizant of how my moods, emotions, and even my wounds are impacting the souls around me.

I have wondered if people carrying oozing soul-wounds are blind to the fact that they are living out of that wound in ways harmful to others. When you are in deep pain, the slightest touch is excruciating. Therefore, hearing the truth about your life and your performance are often taken very personally and then reacted to in either a fight or a flight strategy.

Unaddressed soul-wounds distort our perception of reality: “People are out to get me. People don’t care. People are dangerous. People can’t be trusted. People are_________! People will heal me.  People will love me.” Thus, people are here for me and my wound.

The truth is much harm falls from the lips of wounded Christians into the souls of others because they lack the perspective and discernment that comes with a steady dose of three things:

  1. Truth: I have a thorn.
  2. Grace: I am radically accepted by God and He is ever-present with me.
  3. Time: God rarely gets in a hurry about anything.  If He did the cross would have happened in Genesis 4.

Heavy doses of each element will bring about soul-healing. Too much of a single part of that triumvirate will cause a false positive of soul-wellness. Not everyone trying to help others is well enough in their own right to be of any lasting assistance.

It’s one thing to be a wounded healer and another thing to be a wounded warrior. Serving others from our woundedness is radically different that serving others for our woundedness.  The first serves out of embracing their wound and loving others tenderly, the latter helps others in order to assuage the undressed wound still festering in their own soul.  One brings healing and life, the other spreads thorns and germs.

God, help me to love others so that, even though I am weak, You can squeeze the balm of Gilead out through the cracks in my soul to bring healing to the hurting. Amen.

 

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Well-Watered Soul

I had to cut my two-week backpacking trip short. Nature conspired against me this year with the largest wild-fire in the nation blocking my path on the Rainbow Trail. Then, after I had resupplied to go to the other side of the mountains to my favorite lakes, the mosquitoes were the size of Chihuahuas and thick as smoke. They seemed to really enjoy the insect repellent I brought. In fact, I counted 25 on the door to my tent one morning at 5:00–waiting, just waiting for me. Mocking. I left them to themselves and came home.

With a free Sunday, Lynette and I decided to attend a friend’s church in my town on Sunday. It was the early service and it was jam-packed with folks of every demographic. We even saw current and former members of our church there. The music was lively, loud and contemporary.  We loved every minute of it.

My young friend, Zach Bearss, preached from Habakkuk chapter two. The essence of his sermon was that the people of Israel in general and this prophet in specific felt they were being mistreated by the world and even by God.  In fact, God seemed to be saying it’s bad now and my solution is that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.

pulpitI am a huge critic of preaching.  Brutal, my wife says. But I found Zach’s sermon to be compelling, provoking and convicting. I can see why folks are flocking to his church. I was so proud to call him my friend.  After the service I went up on stage and, waiting for him to finish a conversation with a congregant, gave him a big man-hug and told him that I loved him.

Then we went to our church to hear another friend, Pete Kuiper, preach for me. Pete is a licensed clinical counselor and very wise man. He spoke on the power of gratitude. He promised that if today’s Christian would practice the discipline of being grateful “in” everything not “for” everything it would cure nearly all anxiety and depression Christians face in this world. I loved his talk. He was wise, funny, and practical.

It was so good to introduce him to my church. One of the great joys of my life is introducing friends to friends.

Then Sunday night I had previously scheduled a new attender to our church, a retired bi-vocational pastor named Bill Bland, to speak for me. The crowd was small, but Bill was undaunted by the size of the crowd. The small crowd didn’t hurt his feelings or intimidate him in the least. He is too wise for that. He led us on a survey through the book of Philippians in a delightful and engaging way. He was funny, warm, wise and compassionate. His vast knowledge of the Bible notwithstanding, my favorite part of Bill’s teaching was the warmth of his soul as he talked about Jesus and the ancient book that we love. It showed up for me most clearly through his large, gap-toothed smile.

He was such a delight to listen to. He fed my soul.

Here are a couple of takeaways from my time in three different services and three different speakers yesterday:

  1. Each honored the pulpit by taking it seriously.

Styles come and go and often are generationally-specific, but I can always tell when the person standing in front of me is serious about the sacred task of speaking for God. When I sense that, I listen carefully to the speaker.

  1. Each honored me by expressing compassion in their words and tone.

Ever felt “talked down to”? Ever felt condescended to? Ever heard a preacher who is angry? So, have I. In fact, I am guilty of doing those sins. Not my three preachers from yesterday. I felt cared for as they spoke to me and my wife.

  1. Each honored God by submitting their hearts to His sovereign control.

I could tell in each of them that they had spent some time in prayer relinquishing their wills to the will of the God of the universe. In ways unique to each of them they had said, “Not my will, but Thine be done” in this sermon. How do I know that? It shows in the humility in which they presented the Word of God. They didn’t come across arrogant, uppity, or snarky.

Humility in preaching is the background noise of the sermon. You can tell when it is not there. And, in a strange twist of how God works, you don’t notice it when it’s present. Well, you can later as you reflect on the experience and you notice arrogance was conspicuous by its absence.

Nothing is more toxic for me than an arrogant, under-prepared, and angry preacher. I am hyper sensitive to them, because that is my default mode as a pastor. Each of these men of God edified my heart because of their humility of soul, compassion for people, and submission to God.

And I am the better for feasting at three different, but satisfying meals, from three different pulpits yesterday.

The whole experience reminded me of the old prophet’s words, Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden…

That’s how I feel this Monday morning.

Would to God that the lovely people who listen to me week after week would wake up Monday and feel the same way.

Make is so, Lord. Make it so.

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Cast into the Deep

 And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”  Luke 5:10

When I was a boy my father bought a 1949 Ford pickup for $50.00.  He told me that if I would help him clean it out he would let me keep whatever I found.  I was about five years old and my mind immediately went to: packs of gum, loose change of nickels, dimes and quarters—real treasure.

I had my little Wisk Broom and a grocery sack for trash and sundry other pearls of great price.  I swept out the passenger side, reached far underneath the bench seat for paper wrappings, cigarette butts, and a penny or two.  Then my dad said, “I will lean the seat forward and you clean out the area behind the seat.”

I climbed up on the running board so that I could see behind the tilted seat-back and I saw what looked like a rolled-up blanket.  I grabbed one end of the blanket and tugged at it.  It was heavy.  I thought it was hung up on something so I pulled harder.  I could barely move it.  I called for my dad.  He opened the driver side door and looked behind the seat and said, “What have you found, son?”  He pulled it out and unrolled the blanket.  In the blanket was a Remington Ithaca single shot .22-caliber rifle.

My dad reached up and squeezed my thin shoulders and said, “Congratulations, son, your first gun.”  I was five years old.  I remember feeling very grown up.  I still have the gun.

An ugly old junk truck turned out to be more than either of us bargained for.

We think it is going to be one thing – maybe something unattractive – but it is more than we think it is, and it has a bigger pay off than we expect.

Peter thinks he is a fisherman, but Jesus says I will make you a fisher of people – that is you will bring people into a relationship with God.  Jesus takes who Peter is, what Peter does, and he transforms it into something of eternal significance.

When you and I REALLY begin to follow Jesus, not just go to church but really follow him, he takes our passions, our skills, our gifts and redirects them toward his bigger purpose, and we become more than we think we are.

My surveyor friend, Rick, told me one time that when he drives in a stake at a job site he prays for the residents in the housing development that will one day live there.

Another friend, Justin, told me that he prays silently for his patients that come to see him in his clinic and then when appropriate as the relationship develops he asks those that share trials with him if he can pray for them.

But following Jesus also means that we will have to take some risks just because he says so.

Peter's CatchIn this story, Jesus tells Peter to put the nets out even though they had fished all night and had not caught anything. It is a crazy thing for Jesus to say – Peter, after all, is the fishing expert. And Jesus, after all, is only a preacher. What does he know about fishing?

We often think we are the expert in our lives, but really Jesus is, and he asks us to do two things: Trust him – since he made us he knows what’s best for us. And obey what he tells us to do.

Some of you know that I have been known to get sick and come close to feinting in hospitals.  When there have been times when I would mention this to my wife before going to see someone in the hospital and she would say, “Why are you complaining? You know that God always gets you through it and you always come home with some wonderful story about how you were touched or ministered after having gone.”

And sure enough every time I would go, I’d come back just pumped because on more than one occasion after I prayed for the sick person they would ask if they could pray for me and my family.  Wow.  Because I trusted and obeyed, I was blessed.

Now I kinda look forward to folks getting sick enough to go to the hospital so I can get blessed.

In this story Jesus borrows Peter’s boat to do some teaching in the shallow water, and when he is done teaching, he says to Peter, “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets for a catch.” I think that is a good description of where many of us – including me – are at in our faith journey.

Perhaps you have paddled around in the shallow water listening to Jesus’ teachings, going to church, hearing sermons, but are not applying what you know—and unapplied truth is useless.

I heard a Christian counselor say, “People want you to fix in a counseling session what they’ve rejected in a sermon.”

In this story it is the teaching and head knowledge that represents the shallow water—depth is DOING the things that Jesus asks us to do.

We’ve hear a lot about what we are saved from, but not about what we are saved for. What we are saved for is to receive an invitation from God himself to participate with him in seeing his Kingdom come on earth just as surely as it exists in heaven.

Put out into deeper water and lower your nets for a catch the likes of which you have never seen. If God seems unreal, shallow or small, perhaps you are still paddling around in shallow water.

And yeah, it’s scary to think about putting out into that deeper water. I get that. But remember this: There is no deep, but that he isn’t deeper.  There is no future so uncertain, but that he knows the way.

If you are willing to trust him, he can do amazing things—that will surprise you. You will get more than you bargained for.

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

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Lord of the Storm

A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” Luke 8:23-25

When the Andrea Gail left Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts on September 20, 1991, and headed into the North Atlantic, no one could have known that this fishing boat would never be seen again. Only a bit of debris ever turned up, and the six crew members vanished forever. In his book The Perfect Storm, author Sebastian Junger immortalized the fate of the Andrea Gail. A film followed, but the real star of the book and the movie was the storm itself—a terrifying, relentless oppressor born of fierce wind and mountainous waves. No wonder meteorologists called it “the perfect storm.”

Three deadly elements came together in October of 1991: a front moving from Canada toward New England; a high pressure system building over Canada’s east coast; and the dying remnants of Hurricane Grace, churning along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Strong weather was coming from three of the four points on the compass, all of it converging on the little Andrea Gail.

On their own, warm air, cold air, and moist air are hardly noticeable. But when wind patterns force them together the result can be lethal. The last radio transmission of Billy Tyne, the captain of the fishing boat, came at 6:00 P.M. on October 28, 1991. He reported his coordinates to the captain of his sister ship, the Hannah Boden, saying, “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong.”

The book and movie brought the term “perfect storm” into common usage, but the concept is as old as humanity. People have always had to deal with the convergence of multiple rough circumstances. So much can go wrong so quickly that we shake our heads and say, “When it rains, it pours.”

I’ve always found it odd that Jesus is asleep in the stern of this boat during such a serious storm. Why? This sleeping Jesus tells us that God very often seems to really take his time about storms. He lets them rage. He lets the waters come up. He lets the boat start to sink before he does anything. God often seems asleep.

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?    Psalm 44: 23

What this is teaching is God will often seem asleep, because God will let storms come. He will let the waters rage. He will always let it go on longer than we think.

I believe that 50-plus percent of the distress we experience in our troubles and trials is surprise. There’s the pain of the trial, and that’ll never go away. Then there’s the surprise that the trial happened.

If you’re surprised, you’re naïve. God has told you about storms. That’s your fault if you’re shocked. You shouldn’t be surprised.

What do I know about storms? What do I know about my heart? What do I know about life? If there is a God who created all the universe, it is only logical that often his schedule would seem illogical to us.

The late Elisabeth Elliot, one of the godliest women of our generation, told about a time years ago while visiting friends who owned a sheep ranch in Northern Wales. One day she saw a shepherd pick up a sheep and take it to a sheep dip which is a large vat of liquid insecticide and fungicide, and put the sheep into the vat, and the sheep frantically fought for air. Then the shepherd pushed the head down, but the sheep kept coming up, and the shepherd kept pushing it down, because all of the surface of the sheep had to be coated with the solution to keep it from getting ill.

She said, “I wondered what it’s like to feel like your shepherd is trying to kill you? Then she remembered the death of her missionary husband at the hands of the very people he served and said, “Oh, I remember.”

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_GalileeThe wise person prays and says, “O, Lord God, I’m asking for this thing, but please give me what I would have asked for if I could see what you see and know what you know.”

After the storm is calmed, after their panic is gone, he turns to them and says, “Where is your faith?” What he’s saying is faith is a deliberate action. He says, “You have it. Use it!”

Faith is applying what you know about Jesus. The disciples were being controlled by the storm. They were being controlled by the situation.

There is a line in a poem (I can’t remember who wrote it) that says, “We will choose to remember and never be shaken.” That’s a perfect definition of faith.  Jesus says, “You’ve been shaken because you were not choosing to remember.” Remember what?

In Mark’s version, we’re told that some of them said, “Master, don’t you care that we perish?” They were questioning Jesus’ love. Jesus was telling them they should have known enough about his love for them that they should have been able to handle that storm.

We have something they didn’t have. We have something far greater. We have greater evidence that we can get out and use.

When Jesus Christ was stretched out on the cross at the top of Mount Calvary, the voice of the Lord thundered in a way it never has before. God poured the storm of His wrath on His Son for our sake. We don’t know what Jesus heard, but we know he heard something like the Father saying to him, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”  (Matthew 25:41)

A wise Christian is somebody who remembers what they know when the storms come. You say, “If Jesus Christ was faithful to me by staying true to me during that storm, I can stay true to him during my storm.”

But the most encouraging thing about this miracle is that the storm goes away because they go to him, even though they go to him so badly.

They say, “Jesus, wake up! Are you trying to drown us?” That’s a bad way to approach the Lord. That’s a poor prayer. That does not get an “A.” It doesn’t get a “B.” That’s sort of a “D-minus prayer.” But do you know why I don’t fail it? Because Jesus didn’t fail it.

If you just go its faith.

As the great hymn writer William Cowper wrote …

Blind unbelief is sure to err

And scan his work in vain;

God is his own interpreter,

And he will make it plain.

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

She’s comin’ on and she’s comin’ on strong, but if you choose to remember you will never be shaken—in your storm.

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