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What if…?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus

I live aboard a thirty-foot Catalina sailboat on the Southwest coast of Florida. There is little room to store things. It is tiny-house living. There is no room for clutter. To make the move onto the boat, I eliminated all but the essential items from my life. I donated trunk-loads of goods to my local Salvation Army. I cleaned out my closets. I picked my nine favorite shirts, three pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans, two pairs of shoes, a pair of flip-flops and a jacket. I saved two pair of dress slacks and five long-sleeve shirts for ministry events. I got rid of the rest.

The tiny-house model of living focuses on the essentials and eliminates the rest of the clutter. I enjoy it immensely. It is freeing.

I think the Church in North America can learn a lot from the tiny-house movement. Lately I’ve thought a lot about discipleship. What if we eliminated the clutter and focused on the essentials?

In North America, the primary way we make disciples is through a church setting. It begins by inviting people to a meeting at a church building. At church we sit and listen to a paid staff member teach the Word. Usually the teaching time lasts about thirty minutes. Hopefully the individual gets enough information in those thirty minutes to help him or her grow in their relationship with God and to carry them Monday through Saturday. This, of course, depends on the quality and depth of the teaching.

This model relies on addition for growth. Hopefully the church grows by adding new converts through the year. Individuals are encouraged to invite new people to church where the paid staff presents the way of salvation. As individuals respond to the gospel, they are discipled through the ongoing teaching during the service each week. Individuals are encouraged to give financially to support the facility and the paid staff. Staff is also hired to take this model to other countries. In this way, we fulfill the command of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples.

This is a simplification of the basic church model, but I wonder if there is a better way. What if we thought smaller? Is there a way we can look at following Jesus where we focus on the essentials and eliminate the rest of the clutter? Is there a tiny-church model that produces disciples? What if we eliminated all but the essentials needed to follow Jesus? What would that look like?

My concern is that it seems like we have missed what Jesus instructed us to do. His command was to make disciples. We tend to focus on the big things – build a church building, hire staff, develop programs for children, youth, and adults. None of these things is bad, but are we actually making disciples? It doesn’t seem like it to me. Are we seeing the fulfillment of what Jesus called us to do? And at what cost? A church of five hundred seems successful until you look at the numbers. A church this size will have a budget around a million dollars a year and produce about thirty new followers of Christ a year. This means we invest about $33,000 per new follower of Christ. How can five hundred people follow Jesus and see only thirty new disciples birthed out of the congregation? Surely there is a better way.

I believe the time has come to think smaller.

What if groups of followers of Jesus met regularly together in homes or other public spaces? What if they lived in community with one another and encouraged one another in their relationship with God? What if every member of the group were expected to share their faith with others and taught to do so? What if every member of the group were expected to disciple someone else? What if the group were led by volunteers? What if the giving from the group supported needs within the group instead of supporting a facility and paid staff? What if the giving from the group ministered to the poor in their communities? What if every member of the group were expected to use their gifts for the sake of the group? What if the group intentionally planted and supported new groups of followers of Jesus and then mentored those groups to plant new groups? What if by doing these things the group multiplied its membership each year?

As a result of my asking these questions, I am exploring different models of making disciples. I believe God is leading me to participate in some way in some sort of multiplying small group discipleship model. At this time I am merely learning about what God is doing in this area, and I am intrigued by it. I continue to pray for wisdom and welcome your prayer as well.

I value your prayers. I believe my best days of ministry are still ahead. In our last board meeting, I shared with the ministry board of directors how I believe the first thirty years of ministry have been preparing me for what God has planned to do through my life and ministry in the days ahead. I am more confident of this than anything else in my life. I believe God is going to do great things. There is no logical reason to believe this. If you look at the schedule you might think I am nearing retirement. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind setting my sails for the Caribbean and literally sailing off into the sunset! But I doubt God is done with me just yet. I believe God is going to do exciting things in the days ahead.

Perhaps you read this today and wonder how this applies to your life. My encouragement for you is to ask these types of questions yourself. All the questions I’ve shared flow out of my own relationship with God, so I encourage you to explore where you are personally in your relationship with him. This is why relationship matters. This is why loving God with abandon matters. It changes us. It changes the way we think and act.

Almost a year ago I posted this comment on social media: “It is one thing to say, ‘Why isn’t the church doing discipleship?’ It’s another thing to say, ‘Whom am I discipling?’”

I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog. My final question for you today is this: Whom are you discipling?

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Wilderness of Testing

This is a difficult season in my life and ministry. For the past few months, my schedule has exhausted me. In July I dealt with the accident with my sailboat and the subsequent repairs. The marina where the boat was stored was two hours and forty-five minutes from home, complicating matters. I worked full-time in construction, remodeling homes, to raise the funds for the rudder repair. I spent my evenings preparing my home for the tourist rental market as I made the move to living aboard the sailboat. I tried to maintain the ministry. I worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for almost five months. In the middle of all this, I rode out Hurricane Irma at home, and dealt with issues related to the storm for days before and after the storm. The ministry feels like it is on autopilot. Physically, spiritually, and emotionally, I am spent.

I struggled to maintain my relationship with God. I spent time in the Word, but it felt dry and uninspired. I talked with God about it, but even those conversations felt empty.

During this time, I also experienced lustful thoughts far beyond normal temptations. I’m used to the usual thoughts we all have as guys, but this was different. I mentioned to several friends how shocking these thoughts were. In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve ever before entertained such thoughts. The temptation was so strong that for a moment I even considered walking away from the ministry to fulfill it. The next moment I had clarity and shuddered to think I would even consider such things. It frightened me that I could even think that way.

In all, the past months felt different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my relationship with God. Something was going on, but I was not sure what it was. I plodded on in my relationship with God, still spending time in the Word, still finding time to talk with him, but struggling throughout.

Last week, in the midst of all this, I heard the still small voice of God. “Tim,” he said, “you need to be very careful. This is not just a ‘Valley of Wait’ that you are in. I have led you to a Wilderness of Testing.” It was a quiet word to my spirit, but it felt as if it were shouted to me. This changed everything. For a moment, I saw the context of what has transpired over the past months. Oddly, I was greatly encouraged.

I looked in Scripture at others whom God led into the Wilderness of Testing. Jesus is the most obvious example. I started there. Matthew’s account resonated with me. This is what it says:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

 

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

 

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

 

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

I find this passage intriguing. The first thing I noticed is how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the Wilderness of Testing. This is important. It was not accidental that he was in this place. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It was purposeful. This gives a sense of purpose to all I experienced over the past six months. There is a reason, even if I do not yet know what it is. It is not merely a season of waiting.

The next thought that stood out to me was how the enemy came at the moment when Jesus was physically spent. Jesus had fasted for forty days prior to this trial. Surely he was physically exhausted. In this place of need the enemy approached. He began by questioning Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you are the son of God….” This is often the core question Satan asks of you and me. He tries to question our identity. “Are you actually a follower of Christ?” he asks. “Are you actually a son of God? If you are, then why do you feel the way you do?”

But the enemy also struck where he suspected Jesus had the greatest need. “Go ahead. Turn these stones into bread. You’re hungry. You deserve it.” This may explain the lustful thoughts I experienced. It is the one area of my life I struggle with the most. On a regular day I want to experience the fulfillment of the normal physical desires God created within me. But when I am tired and “hungry,” the temptation is more difficult to resist. It is likely the enemy will strike in the area where our felt needs are greatest.

Gratefully, Jesus responded with clarity as an example for us to follow. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV).

It is significant that he refuted the enemy with Scripture. Jesus quoted from a passage in Deuteronomy 8. Let’s take a moment to look at the passage. Moses addresses the nation of Israel as they look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of God to give them the land. Here is the full context:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, ESV)

Moses’ words give greater understanding to the purposes of the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of humbling. It reveals what is in our hearts, and expands our understanding of our relationship with God.

This season certainly humbled me. There can be a subtle pride in saying I am full-time in ministry. It sounds successful. To work full-time outside of the ministry humbled me. I was confident God orchestrated the work for me as a way of providing for the repair of the boat, but it was humbling at the same time. This time also revealed what is in my heart. As a result, I have grown deeply in my understanding of my relationship with God. I mentioned in a previous blog the powerful truth that it is better to love God than to try to understand him. For me, this is a deepening of my faith in God and in his faithfulness and love to me.

It is also significant to realize the Israelites were looking forward to the Promised Land. They had not yet taken possession of it. The path to the Promised Land for the Israelites led through the wilderness. Often, in our lives, the path to a promise leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Perhaps you can relate. I continue to believe my best days of ministry are still to come. There is no logical reason to believe this. My ministry schedule is lighter than at any other time in thirty years of ministry. But I believe I have yet to see all God intends to do through my life and ministry. I look forward to the Promised Land. I focus on what is to come, not on what has passed.

There is much more to discuss. We have only tapped the first section of the wilderness experience of Jesus. I will expand on this in future blogs. For now, allow me to pause here and reiterate the lessons God is teaching me to this point.

  1. You are where you are by God’s design. As we follow Jesus, sometimes this means he will lead us by the Holy Spirit into a Wilderness of Testing. It is difficult, but it is by design. Take comfort in knowing you are where you are for a purpose, even if you do not yet know what that purpose is.
  2. The enemy will likely strike when you are exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Be extremely careful in those dangerous moments when you are spent.
  3. Guard your identity. You are a child of the most-high God. Never forget this. Commit to spending time in your relationship with God even when you don’t feel like it. Your relationship with God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is not based on your emotions. How you feel has nothing to do with your identity. When you are spent, crawl onto God’s lap and let him hold you close.
  4. Embrace humility. The Wilderness of Testing is designed to humble you. Identify areas where pride has crept in. Confess it to God. Welcome humility.
  5. Look forward as you endure today. The path to a promise often leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Let hope reign as you wait for relief.

I am greatly encouraged as I continue to walk through this season. Recently there is a freshness to my relationship with God as I contemplate what it means to navigate a Wilderness of Testing. I have raised my guard. I am on high alert. I am also filled with hope. At this time, I have no construction projects on my schedule. I am slowly able to focus on ministry again. The sailboat is now repaired and safely in its new home here in Southwest Florida. I moved out of my home and onto the sailboat. The house is now in the rental market. And Hurricane season ended November 30! Hope reigns.

I wonder where you are in your relationship with God. Do you love him? Apart from my relationship with God, I do not know how I would have navigated these days. Are you in a Wilderness of Testing? Are you spent from the trials that have come into your life? God longs to meet you in the midst of your situation to remind you that you are his child. Let him pull you up unto his lap. His love for you is greater than any sin you have done. He offers forgiveness when we confess our failures to him. He rushes into our brokenness with healing and comfort. Find hope in him alone.

For me, it is a Wilderness of Testing. I look forward to sharing more from the Wilderness in the days to come.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

That Sinking Feeling

A few weeks ago I shared my experience when I grounded my sailboat while navigating Lake Okeechobee. It is currently in long-term storage at a marina while I wait for God to provide the resources needed to repair the rudder. It excites me to see God at work in my life and relationship with him through this experience. I shared on social media the work God has done in my life in my understanding of stewardship versus ownership. It is truly a place of rest when I keep my focus where it should stay.

If you read only those blogs, you might think I always respond the way I should. Nothing is further from the truth. In the following days I found myself struggling to keep my focus on God and not on my circumstances. Most of the time I kept my focus on him. But there were quiet moments when I was alone, far from the spotlight of ministry, and I wrestled with my lack of faith.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” This deeply ministers to me in the moments when I feel all too human. God created me from dust, and to dust someday I will return. In the moments between, I am dusty. I am of this world. I am human. My heart does not always respond the way my head knows it should. It is okay. God knows how he made me. He remembers I am dust.

Throughout Scripture we meet many interesting characters who carried the dust of the world on their journey. Peter is one of my favorites. He is bold, outspoken, quick to action, and undeniably human.

Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowds, and when all had departed, he found a place where he could pray in solitude. In the coolness of the evening he was alone. By this time the disciples were far from shore. A storm had risen, and they labored against the wind and the waves.

After many hours, the disciples had only managed to traverse two-thirds of the way across the lake. Darkness consumed the vessel. The tempest beat upon them. They were weary. Their arms ached from rowing. In the waning darkness, the disciples saw the figure of a man walking on the sea. Terror gripped their hearts. “It is a ghost!” they cried.

But it was Jesus! He came to them in the midst of their trial, walking on the water. “Take heart,” he shouted above the wind, “it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Here is where my brash friend Peter makes me smile. He blurted out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Be careful what you ask!  For Jesus says to him, “Come.” And, in one of the most understated moments in Scripture, it says, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28, ESV).

Now we could stop our story right here, and Peter’s actions would impress all of us. Just as you might think more highly of me than you ought after reading the blog of my response to the grounding of the vessel. But let us continue our tale, for this is where it gets interesting.

Peter leapt from the vessel and strutted across the water. He was almost to Jesus. For a second, a flash of lighting illuminated the boiling sea. He glanced to his left and saw the frothy waves kicked up by the fierce wind. In a terrifying moment, he realized he was in the middle of the lake, and the boat was far behind. Fear pierced his heart. He was no longer walking on water. His feet sank beneath the surface, and he felt the cold water engulfing his legs. In a panic he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached for him, lifting him above the waves, and with compassion said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter and Jesus walked back to the boat and joined the other disciples. The wind and waves ceased their roiling. The trial was ended. (Read Matthew 14:22-33 for the full account of this story.)

I relate to Peter. I want to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm to walk closer to Jesus. I want to focus on him so deeply that logic dissolves, and I find the water firm beneath my feet as I step toward him. But I also know what it means to take my eyes off of Jesus and to focus instead on the wind and the waves. I know that sinking feeling. I know the sensation of cold water engulfing my feet. I know the moments of fear in the midst of trying to trust him fully. I know how the hands of Jesus feel when he reaches down to lift me up. I know his voice when he says to me, “Tim, oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Yet his voice is not condemning. In my mind, I see his eyes looking down at my dusty clothes. Then he looks back to my eyes, smiles and with a wink says, “Yep, you’re dusty. You’re still human. And I’m still God.”

My friend, we are all human. We are dusty. We do not always respond the way we know we should. Sometimes the wind and waves overwhelm us. In those moments, even though we fail to trust him fully, God understands. He still rescues. He still leads us to a place of rest. He still loves.

When Peter and Jesus return to the other disciples in the boat, the seas stopped churning. The wind died down. Rest settled upon the weary. And everyone in the boat, including Peter, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Their focus returned to Jesus. They worshiped. They understood a little more who he was. Our trials illuminate our need of Jesus. In the process we find he truly is the Son of God.

Our God is a God of grace. May we use each trial to trust him more fully. May God increase our faith. May we grow in our relationship with him. May the moments of doubt and confusion decrease, and our moments of trust increase.

Sometimes we walk on water. Sometimes we sink beneath it. May each moment draw us closer to him.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.

Be The Boy

I want to share with you my testimony of what God has done in my life over the past few weeks. My heart is full of joy over all I see God doing. But it was a difficult journey getting to this place. The route through which God brought me was completely unexpected, and is somewhat uncomfortable to share. But I feel it is important to share anyway. Allow me to explain.

In early April, I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California. I was excited to meet with industry professionals and to learn more about the craft of writing. I brought with me a couple of book proposals and an expectation of an opportunity to take my writing to the next level. God has blessed me with a growing audience for ministry, and I see God blessing the writing aspect as the ministry grows. I figured my chances were good.

Arriving at the conference, I got the sinking feeling I was wrong. It was a bit overwhelming. I found I had a lot to learn about the writing and publishing process. I met other writers more gifted and farther along the journey than I, who were themselves still looking for a publisher, still waiting for the opportunity to see their work in print.

Quietly in my spirit God spoke to me. He used the speaker on Sunday morning during the Palm Sunday service to do this. In the message he shared the story of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, allow me to share John’s version of it. This is what he wrote:

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”

Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” (John 6:1-12, ESV)

This story is repeated in all four of the gospels, but only John includes the detail about the boy. Somehow the boy has five loaves of barley bread and two fish. This was far more than a mere sack lunch, but far less than what was needed to feed everyone. He had a generous supply, but it still required a miracle of God to satisfy the hunger of the massive crowd. Jesus takes the bread and fish and miraculously multiplies it to feed thousands until they are full! Herein lies the message the Holy Spirit spoke to me.

No matter what I do for God, it still requires a move of God to meet the needs of others. I bring him what I have, but it requires a miracle from God to multiply it. It was as if God said to me, “Tim, just be the boy and let me be God.” Be the boy. Be the one who gives to Jesus what little you have. Don’t try to scheme and figure out how to broaden your platform. Just give what you have to God. Expect God to multiply it in ways you cannot even imagine.

No one sitting in the grass that day anticipated the miracle Jesus was about to perform. But God knew! Don’t try to understand God’s ways. Just be the boy. Seek humility. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Don’t give room for spiritual pride. Miracles don’t happen through lives comingled with pride.

I sat in the conference center hall and pondered this word from God to me. Sunday night a different speaker referenced the same story. In fact, over the next few weeks, the story of the feeding of the five thousand was repeated by countless speakers. It was almost laughable. Each time it was as if the Holy Spirit nudged me with his elbow and with a wink said, “Be the boy!” Each time it was a confirmation to me as God reinforced this truth in my life.

Now this all reads well, and I am tempted to stop writing here. But as the Holy Spirit confirmed this idea of giving what I have to Jesus and allowing him to do with it as he pleases, he was also peeling away layer upon layer of spiritual pride from my heart. It was a difficult, humbling time.

Each layer of pride was so subtle that at first it was tough to notice it had wrapped its tendrils around my heart. Layer after layer of pride had built up, but not so much that it was easy to see. Pride sneaks in slowly making it difficult to detect. It is a cancer, and it takes a spiritual CAT scan to reveal the cavities where it lies hidden. Somewhere in my journey with Christ I had crossed a line from being amazed by all God is doing, to thinking I was going to do something amazing for God. But God doesn’t share his glory. He is quite capable of doing amazing things all by himself. He just wants me to be the boy.

I was saddened when I realized pride had taken root within me. Broken is a good way to describe it. Solemn. Still. Listening. For weeks this lingered.

At the end of the month, I attended the Exponential Conference in Orlando. Several speakers referenced the feeding of the five thousand, and each time I nodded in agreement with the Holy Spirit. By this point, I had already done business with God. With a new awareness of the work of God in my life, I returned home with a desire to go deeper in my relationship with God. I thought back to a time twenty years ago when God radically moved in my life.

It was January of 1997. The previous December I had finished the Bible Study “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. The Holy Spirit initiated a profound work in my life, and I was consumed with a desire to know him more. I read through the entire Bible three times in the next year. I couldn’t put it down. It was the most astounding book I had ever read. If he could do a miracle in the Old Testament, then he could do the same for me. I didn’t care about watching TV. I didn’t care about anything but reading the Word. It was a profound season in my life.

My prayer now is for God to take me back to that place in my relationship with him, back to where I hungered to know him more. I have become complacent. I have become comfortable. Yes, I love him dearly. But what if the Holy Spirit stirred up a fresh, new hunger inside me? What would God do in and through my life if I had a growing passion burning within me? It is a question I expect God to answer in the coming days.

I’ve taken steps toward that place by turning off the TV. I’m not anti-TV. I’m just taking a break for a time to spend focused time in prayer and in the Word. It is a season of fasting and prayer for me. Already I am encouraged by a renewed sense of his presence and purpose. Where there was sorrow over my pride, I found joy in his presence. Thankfully, when we confess our sins, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

I share this and hope it will encourage you. I also covet your prayers during this season. For all of us, remember: Just be the boy. Guard against pride. Pray for God to take you to a new place in your relationship with him.

But by all means, just be the boy.

When Hope Seems Lost

The huge crowd pressed forward, surrounding Jesus and his disciples. Jarius pushed through the throng. He jostled his way to the front of the pack. As the leader of the synagogue, he knew better than to barge through, but the need was urgent. Death had come to the door of his home. At any moment, his daughter might breathe her last. In a final desperate act, he threw himself at the feet of Jesus.

With arms upraised, he pleaded with Jesus. “My little daughter is at the point of death,” he cried. “I beg you, come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

Time stood still as Jarius waited for a reply. But Jesus barely looked down at the man. Without breaking stride, Jesus and the disciples continued on. In a moment, the wave of people swept past him as he knelt on the ground.

Jarius jumped to his feet and pushed forward in the throng, trying to make his way back to Jesus. If his request were denied, he would have no hope. He had just humbled himself before the Rabbi, and it seemed his request had been completely discounted. He reeled from the knowledge his cry was unanswered.

He had almost caught up when Jesus stopped and asked the crowd, “Who touched me?” Jarius was frustrated and confused. Seriously? I just begged you to save my dying daughter, and you ignored me? Yet in a crowd this size, someone touches you and you stop to find out who it was? It was inconceivable.

Jesus looked around to see who had touched him. For a moment Jarius thought Jesus might see him and respond to his request. But his hopes were crushed again. Jesus looked right through Jarius, and his gaze stopped on a woman who cowered behind him. Jarius watched in astonishment as the realization spread that his plea was unheeded.

Time stopped. Jarius could hardly breathe. His opportunity had come and gone. It was obvious Jesus had moved on. Now Jesus spoke with a woman. To think, a rabbi speaking with a woman! How could Jesus ignore the request of the leader of the synagogue, but give his full attention to an insignificant woman? There was a commotion in the crowd. The woman had needed to be healed. Somehow power had gone out of him when she touched the hem of his garment.

Jesus looked at her and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In an instant, she was healed! The crowd received what they came for. The rabbi had miraculously healed again! The news spread through the throng. They looked at one another as excitement leapt from face to face. While everyone else celebrated, Jarius stood motionless. His request had been denied, and yet the Rabbi had taken the time to heal someone else. A woman, no less. It made no sense.

He felt a tug on his sleeve, and he turned to see one of his household servants. The servant looked him in the eye, and for a moment neither said a word. Even before he spoke, Jarius knew. He could see it in his eyes. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jarius fought to maintain his composure. Finally, he could hold it no longer. Tears streamed down his dusty cheeks. His body shook. He struggled to silence his sobs.

An odd quiet settled on the crowd. Jarius looked up to find everyone looking at him. Jesus had turned to him as well. He looked down to avoid the stares. He was embarrassed. He smeared the tears from his face with the back of his hands. He tried to compose himself, but his daughter was dead. His efforts had failed. The only one who could help had entirely disregarded his pleas. He could not look Jesus in the face.

But Jesus looked directly at him. He had overheard the servant. He knew. He understood. He had seen Jarius humble himself before him. And though it appeared he had snubbed him, Jesus had another plan in process.

Jesus moved closer to speak to Jarius face to face. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “Only believe.”

What happened next would be retold for generations. For in the moments that followed, Jesus went to Jarius’ home and raised his daughter from the dead.

Adapted from Mark 5:22-43, ESV.

Jarius’ experience is an example for all of us. We pray. We ask God to intercede. We believe he will make a difference. We fall at his feet in our desperate moments and cry out to him. But it seems as if nothing happens. To make it worse, we see God at work around us, meeting needs in other people’s lives, while our needs go unmet. In these moments, what do you do? What will you do when your request goes unanswered?

I share Jarius’ story with you because it illustrates an important truth. In our moments when we feel our prayers are overlooked, Jesus comes to us with two simple commands: Do not be afraid. Only believe.

It speaks to the heart of one of the most difficult aspects of waiting on God: unanswered prayer. Volumes are written on this topic, but the bottom line is this: We don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers while other requests seem to be disregarded. We do know the words Jesus spoke to Jarius thousands of years ago apply to us today. When hope seems lost, he comes to us in our frailty. He speaks to us in our moment of devastation. His words echo across generations. “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

I take comfort knowing Jesus understands my humanity. He knows my fears, so he reminds me not to be afraid. He knows my faith falters, so he reminds me to believe in him. His understanding and kindness are a treasured gift. It is a gift he gives to you as well.

My friend, perhaps you have cried out to God only to feel your request has gone unnoticed. You see God at work around you, while your need lingers. Have hope. The end of our story has yet to be written. We do not know what the outcome will be. While we have no guarantee, we will see the resolution we long for, we do know God is in control. He is kind. He is good. As we wait on him, we choose faith over fear. We choose to believe, even when it seems hope is lost.

While we wait, remember: Sometimes God heals. Sometimes God raises from the dead.

Do not be afraid. Only believe.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 Newsletter.

Transforming Fear Into Worship

Fear gripped Gideon with an icy hand. Against all reason, he gathered his servant and slowly stalked toward the enemy camp. Finally they stopped beside a tent on the outskirt of the sprawling army. Night had fallen heavily upon the plain. In the darkness, the light of a thousand fires silhouetted the tents that filled the valley like a swarm of locust. They were without number, as the sand upon the seashore in abundance, a mighty hoard against the three hundred men in Gideon’s charge.

Earlier that evening, God had clearly spoken to Gideon. The words he spoke sent shivers of fear through Gideon’s soul.

“Arise,” God said, “and go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.” The words overwhelmed Gideon, for the task was impossible. “But if you are afraid,” the Lord continued, “go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”

In the darkness Gideon and Purah crouched beside the tent. The men inside were speaking, and Gideon strained to hear what they said. Finally they heard a voice. “Behold, I dreamed a dream,” the man said, “and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.”

A long pause stifled the air. Gideon leaned in to hear more. Finally the man’s comrade spoke. “This is no other than the sword of Gideon,” he said, “the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”

Gideon heard the interpretation of the dream. He fell to his knees in the dust and worshiped, overwhelmed by what God has done. Quietly they rose and hurried back to their camp. A new found courage surged through his veins. Urgently he called to his men, “Arise! For the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hands!”

In the darkness, three hundred men rose to follow their leader into battle, and by the light of morning their enemy lay decimated before them. The God of Israel had shown his glory again.

(Adapted from Judges 7:9-25, ESV).

I love the story of Gideon. He is one of my favorite characters in Scripture. But what is most interesting about his life is the way God interacted with him along the way. God’s patience and kindness is on display throughout his life. In this passage, I appreciate that it tells how Gideon was a man like I am, prone to fear and questions. I also appreciate that God understood Gideon’s fear. God cared about his frailty in spite of the immense task that he gave to him.

The first recorded instance in Scripture when someone was afraid is in the story of the first man God created – Adam. After Adam sins, in fear he hides from God. Before the fall, there is no mention of fear. It was a perfect relationship with God. But from the fall to today, fear has been part of the human experience. Fear is not necessarily sin. It is, however, a consequence of our sin nature. We are human, not divine. As a result, we do not always respond to circumstances the way we should. Sometimes that means we are afraid when we do not need to be.

This is where we find Gideon. Naturally, the task God gives him feels overwhelming. God already knew that he was afraid. So God kindly says to him, “If you are afraid, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” God accommodated his humanity. When Gideon hears the interpretation of the dream, his fear flees and his courage is renewed. God understood Gideon’s humanity, and made a way to address his fear.

Gideon could have puffed himself up and said, “I’m not afraid, I’m too spiritual for that.” Instead, he straps on his boots and heads down to the enemy camp. He was humble enough to admit that he was afraid. Are you? What would you do?

Sometimes when I feel a sense of fear, I ask God for wisdom to understand why I am afraid. I think if I could just figure out what is causing the fear, then I could fix it. The correct prayer is to ask God to calm my fear, and then to yield to him to change me at the deepest part of my life. I want God to inform me, but God wants to transform me. The challenge is to come to the place where my desire for transformation is greater than my desire for information. When I find that place, then I am ready to lay myself down at the feet of my heavenly father so that he can utterly transform me. In this way, the difficulties that come into my life have value when I understand that God uses them to mold me into the image of Jesus Christ.

In Gideon’s life, God initiated a helpless situation so that only God could receive the glory for the outcome. God may do the same for you and me. The result is that it led Gideon to a place of worship. Judges 7:15 says that when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshiped. His fear was transformed into worship. The word used for worship means to bow down in worship before God. It is the place of submission and recognition of God and who he is. It is a humbling of myself before God.

My friend, is there a sense of fear in your life? Are you in a circumstance that seems overwhelming to you? God understands your humanity. In these instances, he does not condemn you for your fear. Instead, he meets you in the midst of your fear to remind you that he is in control. Stop trying to understand the situation, and start yielding your life to him, so that he can utterly transform you. In the end, like Gideon, God will transform your life from fear to worship.

This article was originally published in the July 2016 Newsletter.

The Consequence of Unbelief

Moses rose from his sister’s grave and slowly walked back to the camp. He lowered his head as he made his way through the tents. He avoided making eye contact, but he could feel the people’s stares burrowing into him. The multitude he was tasked to lead had taken a toll on him. He was emotionally bankrupt. He had not even had time to mourn his sister’s death before the people were back to their bickering. Their squabbling was like a whining insect in his ear, always annoying with no way to make it stop. He had little left to give. He was extremely frustrated with them. But more importantly, he was frustrated with God.

His frustration with God was easy to understand. It was God who had called him to this miserable task. It was God who had led them into the wilderness. It was all God, but in the eyes of the people, it was all Moses’ fault. Now the whole congregation had assembled together against Moses and his brother Aaron. Their words were cruel and cutting as they heaped blame on him.

“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!” they sneered. “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

Silently Moses and Aaron turned and went to the entrance of the tent of meeting. They fell on their faces, prostrate before God. In a moment, the glory of the Lord appeared to them. At last, God spoke.

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and before their eyes tell the rock to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. Then he and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock. Inside he was fuming. When at last silence spread across the group, he glared at them and shouted above the crowd, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”

At this, Moses lifted up the rod with his hand and struck the rock. A loud crack rang through the air. Again he lifted the rod and struck the rock, and again the blow reverberated through the air. The sound echoed across the wilderness. Immediately water gushed out. The thirsty throng surged forward, cupping the water in their hands, filling their parched mouths with the cool sweet water. A shout of joy erupted through the congregation as the water filled the pool below.

The sound of Moses’ striking the rock was also heard in heaven. But instead of joy, sadness began to seep from the throne room of heaven as God the Father considered the consequences of this singular act.

Finally God spoke to Moses and Aaron. “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

The people drank like wild animals, oblivious to what had just transpired in the heavens. Moses slowly closed his eyes. A tear filled the corner of his eye. Finally it spilled over and traced a wet line down his weary, dusty cheek.

(Adapted from Numbers 20:1-12, ESV).

When I consider this period in Moses’ life, I am filled with sorrow. I cannot comprehend how devastated he must have felt. His sister Miriam had just died. The sand mounded on her grave had not even settled. Add to this the ongoing pressure of trying to lead a multitude of unruly people through the desert. Surely he was emotionally and physically drained. In his humanity, he did the unthinkable. Instead of following what God has said to do, he took matters into his own hands.

The consequence was staggering. Instead of joining the people when they finally took possession of the land that God had promised to them, he was only allowed to see the land from afar. He would not step one foot on the land. Can you imagine? After all the problems, all the complaining people, all the wandering, because of this one act he was not allowed to enter.

If you are like me, you question why this is such a big deal. Gratefully, in his response to Moses and Aaron, God tells us why this matters. This is what he says:

“Because you did not believe in me…”

Let that sink in for a moment. Do you understand the consequence of unbelief? Do you understand that when you chose to live your life apart from God’s design that there are consequences?

Trusting God is not optional. Following God is not discretionary. We don’t get to decide when it is right to obey, and when to do it in our own way. It is all or nothing. Doing the right thing in the wrong way is always the wrong thing to do.

As I walk by faith, I’ve chosen to live my life completely reliant upon God. Many years ago I made a commitment to rely solely upon him. As God has led me in my relationship with him, I do not share my needs with others. I bring my needs to him, and then I wait for him to provide however he sees fits. This is non-negotiable for me. It is not that I am more spiritual than others. In fact, it is the opposite. I know how unspiritual I can be! I know my humanity! I know I can make emotional decisions. I know that when I am physically exhausted I can make horrible choices. I’m aware that I can easily try to manipulate others to get what I want. I actually find security by following God in this way. It sets a boundary for me in my walk with God. It minimizes my humanity. Sometimes that means I have to wait. But for me, the difficulty of waiting on God is easier than dealing with the consequences of unbelief.

As we live by faith, you and I have similar opportunities presented to us. Like Moses, we hear the word of God. We move forward in faith, believing what God has said, he will do. Then trials heap upon us. We grow weary. We feel a deepening frustration. “What if…” We begin to doubt. It’s only human. My friend, in these moments be very, very careful. When you are emotionally drained, or when you are physically exhausted, the enemy will tempt you to take things into your own hands. These are the moments when the enemy will question your confidence in what God has said.

In these moments, choose to have confidence in the word of God. Believe that what he has said is true. He will be faithful. Wait patiently for him. Do what he says to do, when he says to do it.

Remember, the consequence of waiting is always better than the consequence of unbelief.

This article was originally published in the June 2016 Newsletter.

Moving Forward by Looking Back

He struggled to gain his balance as another blow landed upon his back. His body lurched forward, and he fell to the ground, blood dripping from his nose. Without pausing, the Egyptian taskmaster again brought the rod down hard upon him. He tried to crawl away to avoid the blows, but the taskmaster only smirked and hit him again. The beating was merciless. The Israelite foreman didn’t know how much more he could take. He lay exhausted on the ground, gasping for air. Every fiber within him burned. Finally there was a pause. A sickening silence hung in the air. At last the taskmaster tossed the rod aside. It landed beside him with a thud. The foreman lay shuddering on the ground. From his swollen eye, he watched as the taskmaster turned and walked away.

His spirit was crushed by the blows. He lay broken on the ground. The cruelty of the beating clung to him, and he could not escape its grasp. It was unfair. He had done nothing wrong. He had attempted to execute all the wishes of Pharaoh in regards to the making of bricks. The Israelites in his care had worked hard to complete the work, but the requirements of the Egyptians were impossible to fulfill. No one could do it. It was hopeless. The taskmasters had stopped providing the straw they used to make the bricks, but still required the same number of bricks as before. In spite of this, they had labored with all they had to please their masters. The reward for this effort was the beating he had just endured.

To make it worse, Moses had promised them that God was going to deliver them from this cruel slavery. He had placed such hope in those words. His hope now turned to anger. As he lay on the ground, bitterness swept over him, and he sobbed uncontrollably.

When finally he had the chance to confront Moses, his words were not kind. “May the Lord look on you and judge,” he sneered, “because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses winced. The words stabbed him to the heart. The foreman gave Moses one last look of disdain and then turned and hurried away.

Moses watched him as he left. His mind was reeling from the exchange. The words echoed similar concerns in his own heart. Hadn’t God promised to deliver them? Why on earth would God bring such cruelty upon those he promised to set free? Finally, in frustration, he turned his gaze heavenward. “O Lord,” he cried, “why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

(Adapted from Exodus 5:6-23, ESV).

His words echo across the centuries to us today. “Why, God, after all you have promised, why…”

This is one of the greatest challenges we face when we are living by faith. We step out in faith to trust God. We believe he is going to provide. We feebly trust his promises. We wait patiently for the provision, and then nothing happens. Or worse, the situation deteriorates. The beatings commence. You’re left holding onto a scrap of hope as you lift swollen eyes to the heavens and ask, “Why?”

Herein lies the quandary. God promises to be faithful. He promises to provide. But what do you do when the provision is slow to come, or the situation gets even worse? What do you do? What will you do if this happens to you? How do we proceed? The answer is that we move forward by looking back. When your present circumstances are devastating, and the way forward is unclear, look back to the place where you last heard from God.

God had promised that he would deliver the Israelites from the cruel grip of the Egyptians. He had clearly communicated this to Moses, and then through Moses and Aaron to the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt. When they heard the news, “the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, ESV).

Their belief led them to a place of worship. But then the fulfillment of the promise was slow to come. In fact, their situation got worse. Then, when the promise seemed so distant, their unbelief led them to a place of despair. If we are not careful, the same thing can happen to us.

The reality is that God’s promise had not changed. The problem was that they had not anticipated that the fulfillment of the promise might lead through horrible circumstances. This is where many of us stumble. We know what God has promised, but we are unaware that the fulfillment may come through a devastating trial.

Most of us have heard incredible stories of God’s miraculous provision. We celebrate these moments. But if we are not careful, we can miss the multitude of unspoken stories of times when living by faith led to moments of great trial. We do not celebrate those quite as much. But they are both from the hand of the same God.

Personally, I can relate to the situation with the foreman and Moses. I’ve lived by faith since January of 1997. I’ve had times of miraculous provision when God showed his glory in my circumstances. I’ve celebrated those moments. I’ve also had times when I have felt that all was lost. I have questioned God. At times I’ve struggled greatly. I’ve labored. I’ve felt the loneliness of the desert. I’ve lifted my eyes to the heavens and cried, “Why, God? Why did you ever send me?”

Thankfully, God is still faithful, even when our humanity blinds us to his faithfulness.

It is okay to ask God, “Why?” God can handle it. I appreciate that Moses lifted his eyes to God and asked, “Why?” We know the end of the story because it is recorded for us in Scripture. We know that God eventually set his people free and showed his glory in the process. But Moses did not have that luxury. He was living out the story for our benefit. God did not condemn him for asking, “Why?” God loved him. God understands our humanity. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).

The foreman did not have the luxury of hindsight either. In the moment he felt the rod slamming against him, he had no idea his story would be recorded for our encouragement thousands of years later. He had no way of knowing he would be an example of enduring in the midst of devastating circumstances. All he knew was that he was hurting from one end of his body to the other. He could not process that God was faithful. He was simply hurting and angry with Moses for telling him that God was going to set them free. He is an example of our humanity, and we benefit from his trial.

In these moments of confusion when the way forward seems unclear, look back and cling to the promise of God. We have no way of knowing the beginning from the end, but God knows the whole story. Continue to persevere, even when hope seems lost. We have no way of knowing if our trial will be an example to others. We are not able to see the bigger picture. That is okay. We may falter, but God is faithful. God’s ways are not our ways. He exists in a realm that we cannot even comprehend. But he is faithful.

God eventually fulfilled the promise to Moses, the foreman, and the rest of the people of Israel. Some carried scars from the journey, but all were set free.

Look back to the promise when the way forward is unclear.

This article was originally published in the March 2016 Newsletter.

Ishmael Moments

Abram sat in the door of his tent and pondered the idea. His wife Sarai had come to him earlier in the day with a radical thought. She was barren and longed for a child. She also had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. What if Abram took Hagar as his wife? She could be a surrogate mother for Sarai. It made sense. It was logical. It also interested Abram because ten years earlier God has promised him that he would be the father of a great nation. At this point, he was childless. Perhaps this was a way that he could see the fulfillment of the promise. It was an intriguing thought.

After much internal debate, at last he consented. It made perfect sense. It would solve so many problems. Abram took Hagar as his wife. In time, she bore a son. The son’s name was Ishmael. The world would never be the same. Unfortunately, this child was not the fulfillment of the promise God had made years earlier.

Abram would later be renamed Abraham. Sarai would later be renamed Sarah. Twenty-five years after the original promise, Abraham and Sarah saw the true fulfillment in the way God intended. Against all odds or human reasoning, Sarah gave birth when she was ninety-one years old. They named the boy Isaac. The nation that would come from their union would become the nation of Israel today.

Today, the religion adhered to by most of Ishmael’s descendants is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam. Ishmael’s descendants fill the ranks of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas. If only Abram had been willing to wait on God! How different would our world look today?

In Abram’s reasoning, he had figured out a way to help God. I call these moments “Ishmael Moments.” They are the moments when we debate giving God a hand in fulfilling his promises. They never end well.

Last month I wrote about the idea that when we follow God by faith, sometimes faith and obedience go hand in hand. We obey in faith when we have a clear directive from God. But what do you do when the path forward is not so clear? You’ve been praying and seeking God’s direction. Perhaps you think you have figured out a way that you can help God fulfill his promise. It makes sense. It is completely logical. Be very, very careful. You may be experiencing an Ishmael Moment.

Let me be very clear here. God does not need my help in fulfilling his promises! Obedience? Yes. But God does not need me to figure out how I can make his promise a reality. This is where I think many of us struggle. I know I do.

I have a situation in my life right now. I have prayed about it extensively. I have seen God at work in other areas of my life, so I know he is aware of my circumstances. I believe his promise regarding the situation. But I feel stranded in the Valley of Wait. As I waited, I figured out a possible solution. Then I brought my idea to God. I prayed, “Hey God, what if I did this? What do you think?” All I got in response was silence. Undeterred, I continued to pray about my solution. After all, it just made sense. So I repeatedly asked God about my idea. I sought counsel from other godly friends, but no one had any clarity on the issue. I read the word of God looking for advice. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Still I continued to pray! Surely my idea had merit. Surely it would be a blessing if I helped God out. It was so logical, but it was not from faith. It was an Ishmael Moment.

So why does God cause us to wait? Why does God drag out the fulfilling of a promise in our lives? Perhaps he is waiting for us to learn a lesson.

Thousands of years after that pivotal moment for Abram, Paul faced a great trial when he was ministering in Asia. He briefly mentions it in his second letter to the church in Corinth. This is what he says:

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, ESV).

That is quite a trial! The affliction was so severe that they felt completely helpless. They had even lost hope that they would survive the situation. In their minds, they felt like they had been sentenced to death. This is no small trial we are talking about. Perhaps you can relate.

What is important to note is Paul’s understanding of the value of the trial. He says, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, ESV). God’s purpose in the situation was to bring them to the point where they understood their reliance must be in God alone, not in their own abilities. This is very important.

When you and I face Ishmael Moments we have a choice to make. Will we figure out a way out of the situation, or will we rely on God alone?

When I read Paul’s words the other day, it was a moment of clarity for me regarding my own challenge. I immediately saw what God was trying to teach me through this time of waiting. My reliance must be in God alone! There is no room in this equation for me to help God out with my own great ideas. It must be God or nothing. Either God will come through, or I will continue to wait until he does. For me, learning to rely on God alone is far more important than a resolution of my situation.

My friend, what is your Ishmael Moment? What is in your life right now that you are trying to figure out? The situation has dragged on and on. It feels like God has forgotten you. As time has worn on, you’ve come up with a solution that you think will help God out. Right now you are debating whether to move forward or not. For some reason, however, there is no clarity, no clear word from God on what you should do. It may be your Ishmael Moment. You have a choice to make. Will you wait to move forward until you have a clear word from God? Will you rely on God alone, or will you try to give God a hand? Choose carefully my friend. The consequences could be more devastating than you could possibly imagine.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 Newsletter.

Go Fish

It was another hot day in Capernaum. Peter was in his front yard working when the tax collectors from the synagogue approached him from the other side of the street. Lifting his eyes, he saw them drawing near and braced himself for the question that was sure to come.

The leader of the group spoke first. “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” he piously asked, his eyes half closed as he looked down the bridge of his nose at Peter.

Peter pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and slowly closed his eyes as he considered his reply. It was frustrating to know the question was more of an inquisition than a true request for information. It was common for his master to be questioned solely for the purpose of trying to trap him in his words.

Peter paused, resisting the urge to take the bait. “Yes, of course,” he finally replied, though he knew in his heart that their financial resources were depleted. Still, it was the manner of his master to do what was required. Of this, Peter was sure. How it would happen, he could not know. Jesus was poor, and by default, as his student, so was he.

The tax collectors smirked, darting looks cast between them on raised eyebrows, and finally turned and shuffled down the dusty road.

Peter watched them walk away and shook his head in frustration. Finally he turned and went into the house. He stood in the open doorway and looked at Jesus sitting in the cool inner room. He was about to tell Jesus what had happened, but before he could even draw a breath to speak, Jesus spoke to him.

“What do you think, Simon?” Jesus asked, “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?”

Peter wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm and leaned against the door frame. He smiled realizing that Jesus already knew the conversation he had just had with the temple tax collectors. Living with Jesus as your roommate was a never ending parade of confounding circumstances. “From others,” he replied.

“Then the sons are free,” said Jesus, slowly rising from his seat and looking out the open window toward the Sea of Galilee. “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.” Turning to Peter, he continued. “Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Peter smiled again and nodded, catching the eye of Jesus as he winked. The absurdity of the request made him laugh as he turned to reach for his fishing pole leaning next to the door and set off down the path to the sea.

Apparently, it was time to go fishing.

(Adapted from Matthew 17:24-27, ESV).

When I read Matthew’s account of this story, it makes me laugh. I can only imagine what went through Peter’s mind as he went fishing that afternoon. When he cast the line into the clear blue waters he must have thought, “This does not make any sense.” When he felt the tug on the line and began to pull in his catch, surely he must have been giddy with excitement. And when he finally landed the fish and reached down to remove the hook from its mouth, he must have been flabbergasted to see the flash of the silver coin in the fish’s mouth. Surely he laughed all the way home, tossing the coin from one hand to the other as he walked. And how did it feel to deliver the coin to the mocking tax collector the next day? Ah, that must have been a joy.

We forget sometimes that Jesus knows all things. Jesus knew the conversation Peter had with the temple tax collectors before Peter had an opportunity to share it. Jesus also knew they had no resources to pay the tax. Jesus knew as well that he had power to provide for the need in any way he sought fit. Jesus understood both poverty and power because both were embodied in himself. He knew the beginning and ending of the situation before it even began.

Sometimes as we walk by faith, God provides in the most unusual ways. I suspect he enjoys seeing the delight on the face of his children when he surprises us with miraculous provision. However, as I consider this example with Peter and Jesus, I can’t help but think about the responsibilities of both parties in the solution to the need. Peter had a responsibility, and Jesus, as God, had a responsibility. Both needed to be fulfilled in order to see the provision.

Peter’s responsibility was to fish. God’s responsibility was to put the coin in the fish’s mouth, and to put the fish on the hook on the first cast of Peter’s line. But please note there would have been no provision if Peter had not been obedient to what he was told to do. We cannot expect God to provide what he has promised when we are not willing to do what he asks.

When we live by faith, it is often difficult to understand where the line is between faith and personal responsibility. Perhaps the problem is that we are looking for something that doesn’t exist; there is no line. Faith and personal responsibility are both required. Living by faith does not mean that I can just sit at home and wait for God to provide for me financially. Instead, it may mean getting a second job, or selling things I don’t really need. Sometimes it may mean selling things I think I do need! Often it means a great deal of personal sacrifice. It is presumptuous to say “I live by faith,” but then to expect that I have no responsibilities in the process.

Faith always requires relationship, and then obedience to a divine directive. When God speaks, I move forward in confidence that he will provide for his work. When I join him in what he is already doing, my responsibility is only that of the servant. I merely follow his instructions. The financial supply to do the work of ministry is God’s responsibility. He may lead me to get a job to provide the money to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. He may lead me to sell all that I have to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. Or he may provide the finances in a miraculous way to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. In every case, it is God’s responsibility, not mine. He is the one who decides what he wants me to do. Then, in obedience, I move forward with what he has instructed with confidence that he will supply all that I need to accomplish his will. My responsibility is solely to obey.

My friend, are you living by faith? Then get ready for the ride of your life. It may be that God asks you to go fishing today. Will you do it? Or instead will you claim that you are living by faith and waiting for God to provide? God will always be responsible for his end of the deal. Will you be responsible for yours?

My responsibility is to fish. God’s responsibility is to put the fish on the line and the coin in its mouth.

My friend, go fish.

This article was originally published in the January 2016 Newsletter.