Sink

I’m glad Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water.
He showed what it looks like to walk by faith.

I’m even happier that Peter began to sink.
He demonstrated what to do when faith falters.

But when he saw the wind,
he was afraid and,
beginning to sink,
cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:30

We don’t know if Peter took two steps or twenty.
We aren’t told how far he got from the safety of the boat.
It is not reported if the water came up to his knees or his neck.

All we know is that Peter panicked and thought he was going down.
So he shouted that magnificent prayer: “Help!”

“Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.”
Matthew 14:31

Immediately.
Jesus caught the fisherman.

And He did it, according to this artist’s rendering, with a smile on His face.

There is no tsk-tsk-ing, no disappointed sigh, no frown of rebuke.
Instead, Jesus rejoices in any step of faith, even if we flounder.
He smiles and catches us so we can try again.
And again. And again.

In my distress I screamed to the Lord for his help.
And he heard me; my cry reached his ears…
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
Psalm 18:6, 16

Jump In

I’m not a swimmer.

Although I took swimming lessons as a kid and spent lots of summer afternoons at the pool in town, I avoided the deep end and certainly never dove off the diving board. I attribute this to the fact that I couldn’t wear my glasses in the pool. Due to my extreme nearsightedness, I had trouble keeping track of my friends and I was a little scared I might jump in the wrong end. And drown. That would be embarrassing. So I hung out on the edges of the pool, admiring my buddies who could cannonball with wild abandon. (I couldn’t see them, but I felt the splash.)

As an adult, I continue to be a toe-dipper, ever-so-gradually working my way into a pool. Since having lasik eye surgery over 25 years ago, my excuse is invalid now, yet the lack of confidence remains. Pretty sure I wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in the open sea.

Peter and I have a lot in common.
When Jesus invited him to walk on the water,
Peter hesitated for good reason.
Jews didn’t swim.

The Israelites were more at home traversing the desert than taking a dip. Seas represented chaos and symbolized unpredictable evil. The “deep” was a place where monstrous creatures lived, namely Leviathan. Jews in ancient times didn’t spend their days off at the beach.

Fishing, in particular, was considered an extremely dangerous profession since it required proximity to water. It wasn’t uncommon for fishermen to fall overboard while pulling in nets filled with fish. Drowning accidents took many lives, further proving the vile threat of the murky, watery depths.

Jumping out of the boat,
Peter walked on the water to Jesus.”
Matthew 14:29

For Peter, stepping out of the boat onto the turbulent waves was akin to a death sentence if Jesus didn’t do something miraculous. Peter wasn’t trying out a “Jesus-trick”; he was demonstrating the length his faith would go to obey the Lord. If Jesus said “come”, then Peter would put his life on the line to go. Maybe this was the point when Jesus knew: Here was a man with enough guts to go into all the world, make disciples in every nation and build a church.

One disciple got out of the boat while the other eleven watched.
Lord knows, there are enough of us observing from the safety of our boats.
Sink or swim, let’s jump in.

“Guard my life, for I am faithful to you.”
Psalm 86:2

I Like You

PB and I exchange cards on Valentine’s Day.
That’s it.
No flowers, no candy, no fancy dinner out.

Even buying a card seems extravagant these days. Next year, I’m going to take my love to Walmart and peruse the valentine section, pick out a card, have him read it, then put it back on the rack. I may even give him a kiss right there in aisle three. We might hold hands as we walk out to the parking lot. With the money we saved, we could pick up a burger and fries and eat it in the car on the way home. Sounds perfect.

This year, however, we did splurge on cards
and PB found just the right one for me.

Forty-two and a half years ago,
we promised to love and cherish each other.
I’ve never once doubted PB’s love for me since that day.
We never promised to like each other though.

And there have been many days since August 25, 1979 that I’m pretty sure he didn’t like me too much. I know that because there were some days I didn’t like him either. But we loved each other still.

Love is a given.
We vowed to love each other
and every day we choose to make good on that promise.

But to be liked?
That’s different.

It means he would choose me for a friend even if we weren’t a couple.
It means he appreciates my quirky ways, even finding delight in them.
It means he’s genuinely interested in what I’m doing and where I’m going.
It means he would rather have me along than go somewhere alone.

He doesn’t just put up with me.
He likes me.

I think it’s possible that my Valentine card is a reflection of Divine Love.
Sure, God loves us. He has to. He promised He would.
But I also think He really, really likes us.
He chooses us,
delights in us,
is interested in us,
desires us to join Him.

“This is what the Lord says… You are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

How sweet it is to be liked by You. ❤️

Love Mandate

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34

Mandates are not real popular these days. It seems nobody likes being told what to do. Some people expend enormous amounts of time and energy either supporting or opposing mandates that come down from places of authority. The debate rages on between standing up for our individual freedoms and laying down our rights for the good of others. I’m not about to wade into those murky waters. Our silly arguments pale in light of Jesus’ final words to His followers.

The night before Jesus was killed, He issued a mandate to His disciples:
Love one another.

Growing up Jewish, the disciples were used to commandments. They knew the Big 10, they were well versed in the 613 precepts found in the writings of Moses, and the hundreds of added Pharisaical laws were familiar to them. There hadn’t been any new commandments for hundreds of years. The people had their hands full trying to obey all the old ones.

This command was different.
It was not a suggestion.
(“You guys might want to try getting people to love each other.”)
It was not based on emotions.
(“Love people when that ooey-gooey feeling overtakes you.”)
It had no conditions.
(“Love people, but only those who are lovable.”)

This command was new.
Love was to be the distinguishing factor in the movement that was about to take over the world.

This begs some questions:

Can you command someone to love? Apparently, yes.
Do we need to be commanded to love? Evidently.
Does Jesus have the authority to command this? Yep.
Is this commandment optional? No siree.
Who are we commanded to love? Other believers.
Why do we need this commandment? Because it’s not our natural default.
Does God expect us to obey this mandate? Absolutely.
Where can we find an example of this? John 15:13

Do Christians have the right to not love?
I say no.

What say you?

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

I once read a true story about a mom and her three sons. She had a terminal illness and before she died, she wrote each of her boys a letter, to be opened in private after her passing. Each message held her special thoughts about each son. All three letters ended with the same line: “Don’t tell your brothers, but you were my favorite and I loved you most.”

Five times in John’s gospel, this mysterious phrase pops up: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The fact that those words aren’t used anywhere else in the scriptures raises suspicion that John may have been referring to himself, while trying to stay humble. Why does John tag himself as that disciple Jesus especially loved?

John’s Gospel uses the word “love” 39 times, more than the other three gospel writers put together. (Matthew–15x, Mark–7x, Luke–14x) But John doesn’t use the word until the third chapter. In the middle of a discussion with a Pharisee about the Kingdom, rebirth, and believing, Jesus drops an astounding truth. God loves humans. “God loves you so much,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “that He gave you Me.”

God loves the world, yes.
But somehow, He also loves each of us.
So don’t tell anybody,
but today He wants you to know this:
you, who are especially loved by the Father,
you are His favorite.
You are the disciple whom Jesus loves.

Be Like a Tree

When I was a young girl, I used to love the apple tree that was in the horse pasture by our house. It had a low hanging branch that made it easy to climb. I would take my Nancy Drew book, jump over the fence, and then hoist myself up to sit on a limb, resting my back against the trunk. Reading a book while sitting in a tree was magical.

These days, I might sit under a tree with a book, but my climbing days are over. Still, trees hold an allure for me. I’d take a walk in the woods over a stroll on the beach any day. (Unless it’s February — then a stroll on the beach can’t be beat.)

The opening song in the Hebrew book of prayers, Psalm 1, tells me to learn from the trees.

“…be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…” Ps. 1:3

There are some instructions on how to be this kind of tree:

  • Get planted in a good place
  • Be still to let living water saturate the roots
  • Pay attention to the seasons
  • Graciously share what develops
  • Stay refreshed and vibrant

So I’m asking myself some questions:

  • Where do I plant myself most days? In ungodly counsel and in the seat of mockers (Ps. 1:1), or in God’s Word, meditating day and night (Ps. 1:2)?
  • What am I soaking up? Fresh springs of living water from the Lord, or the lifeless stagnation of worldly advice?
  • Am I willing to accept seasons of dormancy and stillness, or do I constantly push for peak productivity?
  • During times of prosperity and growth, will I be generous and eager to share, or will I hoard the bounty for myself?
  • As I grow older, how will I keep myself from withering up and being blown away like chaff (Ps. 1:4)? Will I abide in the Vine, remaining in Him, bearing much fruit (John 15:5)?

A children’s Sunday school song runs through my mind every time I read Psalm 1.

I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the Father to keep me strong.
I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the name of the Lord.
The deeper the roots grow, the better the fruits grow,
The blessings bloom out for all to see.
The deeper the roots grow, the more my life shows,
That Jesus is the Lord of me.

Integrity Kids Worship

What kind of tree will I be?
With over 60,000 species in the world,
there is plenty of room for variety.

I have no visions of becoming
a tall pine
or a stately oak
or a majestic redwood.
I would like to be an apple tree,
with a low hanging branch,
in a green pasture,
inviting small ones to crawl up
and sit a while with a book,
munching on the sweet fruit
of a life lived in Jesus.

Rocks

I’ve been thinking about rocks.

I don’t usually think about rocks at all.

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about them a lot.

It all started this past spring when PB and I started a landscaping project.

We were in way over our heads, but had no choice because every landscaper we contacted was scheduled into 2022. We spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center looking at trees and bushes and plants. And rocks.

One day the owner took pity on us and came out to help us make decisions about landscaping stones. An hour later, our heads were swimming with information about stones, rocks and boulders. He wasn’t just a good salesman, he was absolutely passionate about rocks and became more animated as the minutes ticked on. We learned the pros and cons of every type of landscape stone. We heard stories of how he hunts for and finds rocks with unusual shapes and colors. We were given a tour of his prize boulders.

When we finally got to the car I shook my head and said, “That guy was nuts!” PB and I agreed that we had not met many people with such fervent excitement about anything, let alone rocks. As we drove out of the garden center I commented, “If only more Christians were as excited about Jesus as that man is about rocks.”

In the days that followed, something weird happened. I started seeing rocks everywhere. I began to check out my neighbors’ landscaping stones. I noticed boulders at the end of a friend’s driveway. I saw a pile of rocks in a field and was tempted to go pick up a few. Then PB and I took off for a few days and we came home with a stack of rocks in our car. What was happening?

I think I’ve figured it out.

The crazy garden center guy drew our attention to something we previously hadn’t paid any attention to. His enthusiasm and joyful energy struck us as a bit over-the-top, yet we had to admire his desire to share what he loved and to open our eyes to what we had been missing. Sure, I drove away shaking my head and calling him crazy, but now I’m picking up stones from the side of the road and figuring out how to build a rock wall and archway in our backyard.

So, what if more Christians were as excited about Jesus
as my landscaping friend is about rocks?

Would our warm passion for Jesus
and our sincere excitement about our faith
naturally bubble over in our conversations?

Would our desire to share what we love
cause some people to see what they’re missing?

Would Jesus start showing up everywhere they look
simply because we drew their attention to something
they hadn’t really paid much attention to before?

Would people begin to become interested
just because we were brave and bold enough
to be a little over-the-top?

They may shake their heads and call us crazy.
But a few may start building their lives on the true Cornerstone.

“Welcome to the Living Stone, the source of life!” 1 Peter 2:4 (Message)

A Historic Pardon

Today I have a little history lesson for you.

In 1829, George Wilson robbed a United States mail carrier. He was captured and tried in a court of law where he was found guilty of six charges. Wilson’s sentence was execution by hanging.

Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges.

George Wilson refused the pardon.

An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….”

Nobody knew what to do about this strange turn of events.

President Jackson felt that George Wilson had no choice but to take the pardon. Wilson argued that the pardon had no value if he did not accept it.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Justices ruled that Wilson could not be forced to take the pardon and if Wilson did not accept the pardon then it did not have any value.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the law. But delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and we have no power in a court to force it on him.”

George Wilson went to the gallows,
even though he had been pardoned.

Did you get that?
A pardon is an act of grace.
It is not complete without acceptance.
This act of grace cannot be forced on a person.
It is a free gift, but it can be rejected.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 1

Happy Ascension Day!
The 40 days of Eastertide come to an end today.
It’s time for liftoff!

I’ve never paid much attention to Ascension Day, and for many believers, this day will go by unnoticed. In some countries, it’s a public holiday with government offices, schools and businesses shut down. In their experience, when a king or queen ascends to the throne, it is cause for great celebration.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'” Acts 1:9-11

This was quite the dramatic exit. Jesus was going away for good this time. He had been coming and going for 40 days, but this was it. His feet left the ground and He levitated higher and higher. The disciples saw the whole thing, until a cloud got in their line of sight.

They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Whoever saw anything like it? A man floating up into the clouds! Who could have looked away at such a sight? Eleven men strained to see, with necks stretched back, heads cocked to the side. Oh, surely Jesus was smiling. Just think of His own excitement in returning to heaven, to His Father, to a victory party and coronation. Perhaps He had a tinge of sadness leaving His Men of Galilee, but He had confidence in the Holy Spirit to carry on the mission in them.

Then a voice: “Why are you standing here looking skyward?” Surely more smiles, right? The angelic messengers had bombshell information. “The very same Jesus will return in the same way He left. Just in reverse.”

He left physically.
He will come back in the same way.
He left visibly.
He will come back in the same way.
He left from the Mount of Olives.
He will come back in the same way.
He left in the presence of the disciples.
He will come back in the same way.
He left blessing His church.
He will come back in the same way.*

What will you do today to celebrate your crowned King
who sits on His throne with authority and power?
Look intently up into the sky for a few minutes?
Kneel before the glorious and majestic King Jesus?
Or, like the disciples, go from here worshiping Him with great joy?

“God exalted Jesus to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name.”
Phil. 2:9

*David Guzik commentary

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 2

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” Luke 24:50

I hope my last words spoken on this earth are poignant and heart-warming, perhaps even quotable. I don’t want my last utterance to be something like, “Don’t forget — the garbage goes out on Wednesdays” or “Did we get pre-authorization from the insurance company for this?”

You can tell a lot about a person by their parting remarks.

When Lady Nancy Astor saw all her children standing by her bedside, she said, “Is it my birthday or am I dying?” I wonder how they answered that question.

Groucho Marx quipped to his tearful wife, “Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do.” Are you kidding?

Trailblazer Kit Carson was quoted as saying, “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.” That must have been some crazy good chili.

Conrad Hilton left a bit of advice with his last words: “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” No comment.

Mother Theresa spoke from her heart, “Jesus, I love you.  Jesus, I love you.” Just what I’d expect.

And then there was Steve Jobs — “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Indeed.

With His last words spoken on earth,
Jesus pronounced a blessing on the disciples.

Was it the Old Testament blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you…”? Or like Moses, who had a blessing for each of the twelve tribes of Israel just before he died, did Jesus give each of the disciples a special word? What He said was not recorded in Luke’s gospel, but the sight of Jesus lifting His hands in blessing caused great joy among the disciples. It doesn’t indicate that Jesus put His hands down as He ascended.

Even now,
Our Savior’s hands of blessing are raised over His Bride,
the Church.

I don’t know when my last day on earth will be.
I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to offer any parting words.
So today, I’ll speak words of blessing on those around me.
Just in case.