Tagged ‘Peter‘

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.

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.

Practice the position

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” the pilot shouted over the intercom as the plane descended the final feet to the tarmac below. Hurriedly, I put one hand on the back of the seat in front of me, placed the other hand on top of the first, and then braced my forehead on the back of that hand. A small baby, held closely to her mother’s breast, sensed the tension in the air and cried out as her mother attempted to brace herself.

It was a clear morning in Nashville, Tennessee, as I boarded a plane headed for Albany, New York. After the routine safety speech, I buckled myself in, and the plane sped down the runway for take off. As soon as we lifted off the ground, a loud banging noise began to reverberate throughout the cabin. Something was seriously wrong. Instead of lifting into the sky, the plane slowed and began to descend. But we were not headed toward the airport. I looked at the man sitting next to me and stated the obvious: “We are going down.”

An eerie silence settled over the passengers as the realization spread that something dreadful was happening. The banging from the right, rear landing gear continued to echo through our cabin.

Finally, a stewardess stood at the front of the plane in the aisle, holding a large black notebook in one hand and a microphone in the other. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I need 100% of your attention. I am about to make an important announcement, and I need to have your undivided attention. We have a problem with the landing gear. The plane is returning to Nashville and will have to make an emergency landing.” At this point, she certainly had our undivided attention.

“Everyone put your tray table in the upright position and tighten your seatbelt,” she continued. We complied. “Are there any other flight attendants, military personnel, or police officers on board this plane?” A man in the back raised his hand. “Thank you. I will need your assistance.”

For the next 30 minutes we rehearsed every detail of what we would be required to do. Each passenger had to practice the position, the position we would place ourselves in at the moment of the emergency landing. “Place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that hand. Then place your forehead on the back of your hands.” She demonstrated the position and then told each of us to practice it. She walked slowly down the aisle making sure each person in each row was executing the position correctly. It was crucial that each of us knew the position. It was a position of great security.

Now, what I failed to tell you earlier is that I am an adrenaline junkie. I love exciting events. On top of the fact that I was preparing for an emergency landing, I was also in prime real estate for an adrenaline fix. I was in the window seat exit row!

The stewardess came back to our row to explain how each of us would help her during the landing. I became assistant number one. My first responsibility was to check for smoke or flames outside my window. If it was clear, then I would remove the emergency exit door, throw it outside the plane, crawl out on the wing, and assist the other passengers out of the plane. The guy sitting next to me became assistant number two. His role was to follow me out the emergency exit, run fifty yards from the plane, turn back to the plane and begin calling to the other passengers, “Come to me, come to me.” In this way we would be able to gather the passengers together to account for everyone.

By this time the banging from the wheel well had stopped, and we all sat quietly in our seats, pondering what lay before us.

The plane banked and turned back toward the airport. The pilot announced over the intercom that we would make a low, slow approach to the airport. We would fly past the control tower so they could assess the landing gear. When we flew over the airport, it looked like a ghost town. There were no airplanes on the airstrip. Any plane waiting to land had been placed in a holding pattern. Four fire trucks, with lights flashing, waited on the tarmac, spaced at intervals along the runway. We neared the ground and passed the control tower. The pilot then brought the plane back up to a safe altitude. In the crisis of the moment, it seemed like a long time passed before the plane finally made a slow turn back toward the airport.

One minute from landing the pilot shouted over the intercom, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”, and we immediately assumed the position we had practiced earlier. Slowly the plane descended out of the morning sky. Tension filled the air. Bit by bit the plane drew closer to touchdown. Ever so carefully, the plane settled on the asphalt.

Suddenly, I felt the plane begin to fall over on the right side, the side of the faulty landing gear. For one quick moment I thought it was going to be bad. But then…nothing. The pilot gradually applied the brakes, and the plane came to a stop. The landing gear had held.

I later found out that what felt like the landing gear collapsing was actually the plane’s settling down on the faulty landing gear – the pilot had landed the plane on the other two wheels.

Applause spontaneously erupted from the passengers. As excited as I was to land safely, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to exit the plane via the wing. I’m quite sure the other passengers did not share my frustration.

Looking back on the experience reminds me of an area of my spiritual life that I often take for granted: practicing the position. In the procedures for an emergency landing, it was critical that each of us understood how to do the crash position. It was so important that each of us had to practice this position. In life, the crash position looks something like this: find your favorite seat in your house and kneel down in front of it. Now place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that and then place your forehead on top of your hands. You are now in the most secure position in the world – the position of prayer.

Prayer should be the cornerstone of your life. It is that time when you personally talk with God. What a privilege! But sadly, most folks neglect this vital practice. We get busy with our lives and forget that God just wants to talk with us. Instead, we should regularly talk with God because we love him. We should be practicing the position.

Consider these verses:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, ESV).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12, ESV).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

This year I pray you will find the joy of talking with God, of spending quality time with him as you pursue your relationship with him. Practice the position when times are good so that when the chaos comes, and it will, you will already know how to do it. Don’t wait until circumstances drive you to your knees. Instead, practice that position daily, learning to have conversations with God about the everyday details in your life. Then you will find that, when the challenges come, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Practice the position.

This article was originally published in “Over the Edge: Personal Stories of Adventure and Faith” by Timothy Mark.