From C.S. Lewis, From A Grief Observed, “But she was near death; near enough to make a good shot. She used to quote ‘Alone into the Alone.’ She said it felt like that. And how immensely improbable that it should be otherwise! Time and space and body were the very things that brought us together; the telephone wires by which we communicated. Cut one off, or cut both off simultaneously. Either way, mustn’t the conversation stop?”
Howbeit, that once this mortal body was obtained, through the spark of life, it was only a matter of time until the consciousness of being awakened. We, being created from other beings who likewise were created from God’s design, through the conception of copulation, we continue his plan. Further on, as the mind developed fully, or even before, there was a sense of being part of a creation beyond one’s self. This adoption of the soul into the greater being of God became realized fully later in adulthood. All the while, we were in the palm of his hand without realizing it. It is in this time, space, and body, as Lewis put it, that we then learn to communicate with God.
This morning, although the sense of others around me finding themselves overwhelmed seems to be more apparent this week than ever before, I feel a deep sense of calm and comfort. For it is God that provideth this peace, not as the world knows peace, but tranquility beyond all comprehension. As the waves of life’s tumult swirl in what may seem chaotic despair, God wants me to be the rock upon which they may crash. Seeing how the Master works through me, their spirits can be comforted using my reactions to life’s challenges to perpetuate his will.
As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “Who shall separate us from thelove of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
The older I get, the more I can realize how God uses us. Handing over the reigns to his control is never easy, but with time, those of us who have given him complete control begin to understand how things work in this mindset of circumvented power.
I was reading Francis Chan’s “Letters to the Church” last night, and a statement he made really struck a chord with me. “True compassion takes into account far more than what a person feels today; it takes into account what he or she will feel on judgment day!” He was making the point that we allow our acceptance of sin, of how people feel today, to influence our witnessing. When we weaken the message, we weaken God’s ability to reach them fully. Their salvation depends on receiving the true Word of God without filter, without alteration.
Think of this message as a lifeline, a rope used to save a person from drowning. If we manipulated that line in any fashion, say to make it lighter and not so heavy to carry about, and we replaced it with a less sturdy material, its strength becomes compromised. On that fateful day, when the plea for help comes from those dark waters, the new rope is then thrown to save that frantic being. When they go to grab onto the weaker rope to be pulled to safety, it breaks. That soul that we meant to save is now lost and drowns dying a needless death. When we water down the message, we predispose our lifeline to be less than what it is meant to be. Those very fibers we intend to use to pull the victim from the clutches of eternal death are those which the Master’s hand had created long before our existence. How is it then that we feel obligated to alter them, sugar coat them so that they would be more readily accepted, when in fact, we are altering their eternal purpose?
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he said of this very thing, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers 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.”
Simon Peter answered Jesus when asked if he too would go away like those disciples that turned back and walked no more with Jesus when he said, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
We cannot change God’s word, His purpose, or His meaning least we doom the very people he meant for us to reach so that His grace may abound.
When the waves of life begin to flood the boats of those around you, reach out and comfort them with the same comfort which Christ has given unto you. “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Each of us was created for a time, space, and body. Let us use the time we have left wisely.
Your mission field is just all around you. Open your eyes and see that the fields are indeed white, ready to harvest. Gather the fruit of them into life eternal, and know that you are finally doing God’s work.
Standing in line this morning waiting to prepay for the limited gas at the pump, I listened to those around me talk or shuffled their feet in silence. The sign on the gas pump read, “$20 limit Pre Pay Inside.” Quietly listening to those voices around me, my thoughts turned to how this moment may have been prepared in advance – the unlikeliness of being in the presence of others that normally would not be possible yielding the opportunity to witness. Yet, still finding myself waking up, there I stood in calm repose, not saying a word. It was enough just to watch the lone cashier hurriedly ringing up each person, as most had come in for the same reason. It would have been easy to have been upset that we had been required to come inside to pay before pumping. In fact, the whole issue of why this had happened could lead to a myriad of political to social topics that would only inflame and agitate the parties in close proximity to the discussion. As human nature had advanced itself to the degree of manifestation of greed upon self-preservation, many had begun hoarding gas. The viral videos of people pumping gas into Walmart and trash bags were nearly incredulous. Had people lost their minds? Instead of focusing on the disparaging images of a society gone mad, my thoughts purposed toward how this moment could be used to share God’s love in a world that seems to spin out of control more each day.
When it was my time to pay, I told the attendant which pump, and then she said only, “Okay, now it’s ready,” meaning the card reader had been ready to receive my $20. “Have a blessed day,” I said after the transaction was complete. She quickly replied, “Thank you.” And that was all…
Was the opportunity to witness to others verbally wasted?
Did my sparse, if nonexistent words make a difference in anyone’s day?
Scripture tells us in James, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” It is not always necessary to speak a volume of words to reach those around you. Sometimes, as the saying goes, “simplicity is elegance.” Likewise, as Paul wrote in his letter to Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.”
Sometime later, as my car rounded the bend on 321 heading into Blowing Rock, the sky was ablaze with a brilliant red-orange sunrise. The light from the weekend campfire at the Denton Bluegrass festival splayed into my thoughts. There, the scripture from Colossians had first hit me. Although my brothers and I were there to enjoy the music, there was another purpose we served as we walked among so many that were lost. As the same sun hit the horizon, the view from the campsite was no less breathtaking. The morning rays poured over the Word of God that lay before me, and it was as if the voice of God spoke. From the chill of the air, the warmth of the words poured over my heart and warmed me within.
Too often, we feel that the mission field is in some far-off land, not there is anything wrong with missions or those who serve in them abroad. We overlook that very thing before us – that need of our family, neighbors, and friends. While enjoying the music and fun of this past week’s festival, it quickly became apparent that there were many, even friends of mine, that were not fully vested. One must promptly remind those reading this, that I do not put myself above others, nor do I consider myself more righteous than any, for there is no not one righteous, no not one. Yet, as we desire to become more Christ-like in our daily walk, it quickly becomes apparent the differences in who we have become versus those around us.
We need not be great orators to reach those with whom we seek to help. Our actions often speak louder than words. From the choice of our attire to the music we listen to or play on, our instruments represent the walk we profess to tread.
As we return to our daily lives, let us be mindful that there are many, too many, who are lost and need a beacon of hope and light. A simple kind word summonsed from a pure heart is far greater than an enlightened speech from the loftiest podium. Let us then share God’s love in all that we do and be ever grateful when we say, “Thanks be to God.”
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” – Col. 4:5-6
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15
My journey to church this morning revealed the beauty of God’s creation in the flowers of spring. There is the reminder even in the third week of May that winter’s grasp is not gone. It is Blackberry Winter now in the mountains of North Carolina. Here and there, depending on your elevation, you can find pockets of white blanketing the landscape. Unlike the frozen precipitation, these are the tiny white flowers of the indigenous wild blackberries. They not only symbolize that in roughly two months, there will be the ripe, delectable berries for which they are named, but it also symbolizes that the last cold spell is upon us. To many folks, the temperatures drop far below what is considered normal during this time of year. While there have been many summer-like days with temperatures nearing the 80’s, during Blackberry Winter, there can even be a late frost with nighttime temperatures dropping near freezing or below.
While this seemingly unseasonable weather is not uncommon, it is still a shock to our senses. We quickly grow accustomed to the more leisurely days of warmth and look forward to the summertime, where living out-of-doors is more pleasant.
Why is it we so promptly become complacent in our lives and take the path of least resistance?
One could surmise that is simply our nature. We perceive the world around us through our senses, our natural instincts. When we rely on these alone, we are nothing more than the beasts of the field. Yet, God made us distinctly different from the wild animals of the forests and the beasts of the field. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Although we are of the earth, we have been given the ability to choose to serve a higher power – Yahweh. But too often, we get caught up in the worries and struggles of living from day to day and forget, if we knew at all, what our purpose is in life. Some never realize this or awaken to know God but live from birth to death in a valley of life where a shadow of death overshadows all that they do. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
It was in this vein of thought this past week that the scene of Jesus walking on the sea stood out.
First, in the Gospel of John, “And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”
From the Gospel of Matthew, “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
Now, there is much to unwrap in these few lines of scripture. But if we focus on the idea of how the natural man perceives the world around him, and from this, either believes or rejects the supernatural, then we can find a greater meaning in this miracle. We see not only that Jesus walked on water, but that he called one out of the boat to do likewise. Yet, immersed in the surrounding passages are concepts that apply to us today.
“The disciples went down to the sea and entered into the ship. It was dark and Jesus had not come with them.” The ship was their comfort zone. Several of his disciples had been fishermen. Their familiarity with the Sea of Galilee would have made this travel almost routine. Like so many things in our lives, we stick with what is familiar. Going outside of our box is uncomfortable, yet Jesus told his disciples at the end of the gospel of Matthew to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..” He wanted them to leave everything behind, going to the ends of the earth if necessary. But before they were prepared to embark on such a journey, they had to be shown that they were capable. When we sit in our institutional churches and hear the weekly sermon, too often when we walk out the doors to go to lunch, we leave it behind. We put our faith right next to the Bible on the shelf, where it waits until the following Sunday – if at all.
Then there is the point that Jesus did not go with them, “It was dark, and Jesus had not come with them.” As with Philip, when he said that “This he said to prove him knowing himself what he would do,” it is probably safe to say that Jesus knew in advance that he would purposely surprise his disciples. Yet, he didn’t just show up walking on the sea in the dark. It was far worse than that, for, “The sea arose by reason of a great wind which blew.” In the last scene of episode 4 of Season 2 of the series “The Chosen,” Peter makes a comment regarding the healing of the man by the pool on the Sabbath when Jesus could have easily waited, and Jesus replies, “Sometimes you gotta stir up the water.”
The disciples knowingly went out on the Sea of Galilee at night. Was this by choice, or was this planned? The winds often pick up on large bodies of water during the day, so the night crossing would have been safer and easier under normal circumstances. But these were anything but normal circumstances. Remember their comfort zone – the boat? Knowing that these seasoned sailors would haven’t been bothered by the night crossing, I like to think that Jesus did a little stirring up of the water that night. When we are shoved out of our comfort zone, it is then we realize we need Him most. So it was, that dark stormy night, after they had rowed 25 or 30 furlongs, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto their boat, and they were afraid. Yes, grown men, hardened sailors were now scared, so much so that Christ had to call to them, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Now, the Gospel of Matthew next tells of how Peter, possibly not believing that it was really Jesus, calls out to the Spirit, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” We must wonder if it was Peter’s disbelief or was it the fact that he was emboldened by the miracle that he called out to Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus answers and simply says, “Come.” Peter then, fully vested in his belief, gets out of the boat.
Friends, this is the moment that we should all gasp!
For this is the exact parallel to our lives today. We have been asked to go to all nations, making disciples for Christ, yet, we cannot leave the church walls before we are swept back into the boat. We fail to even dare step out of our comfort zone for fear of drowning. Yes, it is a leap of faith. Yes, it is daring and will require more of your dedication and commitment than ever before, but think for a moment of those first few steps that Peter took.
For a few brief seconds, a man was walking on the substance that sustains life. It was not frozen; it was swashing all around; the sea was boisterous, scary, and dark. Yet, Peter stood on the water as if it were solid ground, as did the Son of God! For those brief seconds, Peter was able to walk again where Yahweh stood. When we step out in faith, the impossible becomes possible. When we put God at the center of our lives, we are no longer a slave to the sins of this world. We are set free.
Leaving the confines of our comfort level will never be easy. We cannot expect to succeed at every step. In fact, we will be forced to rely on Yahweh all the more. The next few steps that Peter took revealed how quickly we lose focus. For in that brief instance of time, as he stood on water, Peter quickly realized the tumultuous seas around him and began to sink. As John the Baptist told his disciples, “He must increase that I may decrease.” And so it is with us. The more we give up, the more we rely on Him to provide for us.
Lastly, we see Peter returning to the ship with Jesus. As the Gospel of John tells it, “They willingly received him into the ship.” Soaking wet, having nearly drowned, Peter is now humiliated but relieved to be back into the confines of the vessel. However, he is not alone, for Jesus is with them all. As we picture that dark night on the sea of Galilee, those men once more were shown how the impossible becomes possible when we give it all to God.
But there is one last thought to this story, one final twist – Christ got into the boat.
“So, what is your point,” you ask?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Getting into the boat, Jesus entered into their world. He didn’t have to ride in a boat, yet, as God coming to earth in the form of a man, Christ got into the boat so that he could prove he too was the Son of Man.
When the weather turns cold after we’ve become accustomed to the warm, beautiful cloudless days of sunshine, let us not grow bitter, for the landscape becomes white of blooms of the Blackberry Winter. Let not your world be troubled by the change, but embrace it and seek to go beyond what is comfortable.
Take that step out in faith and watch what impossible becomes possible.
And remember, the first step might be the scariest, but it will always be remembered as the best.