Happy Thanksgiving

As we head into Thanksgiving, it’s helpful to remember that gratitude is not a feeling. It’s a choice. At its core, thankfulness is not an emotional response to our circumstances, it’s a considered response to God. Gratitude is less something we stumble into and more something we lead our hearts into experiencing. Gratitude is less about what’s going on in our lives and more about our outlook on all of life.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

When we choose to be thankful, we are intentionally reminding ourselves that our lives are a gift of God’s grace. From spouses, to kids, to warm beds, good coffee, and crisp fall mornings. It’s all a gift. And, ultimately, the greatest gift God gives us is Himself.

Thanksgiving is possible not because everything goes perfectly but because God is present. The Spirit of God is within us— nearer to us than our own breath. It is a discipline to choose to stitch our days together with the thread of gratitude. But the decision to do so is guaranteed to stitch us closer to God.

Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us

Some of us are headed into a holiday that will make it especially easy to be grateful – family, friends, football, and a huge meal. You’re basically living a Hallmark movie these next few days. Great! You shouldn’t feel bad about that. You also shouldn’t settle for it. Reach for something better – a heart that is tuned to the melody of gift and grace.

Some of us are headed into a holiday that will make it a little harder to be grateful – grieving lost loved ones, working on the holiday, being alone, or confronting the painful realities of family. I get it and I’m sorry. But you don’t need to write off Thanksgiving. Ironically, you might be most likely to discover the thread of true gratitude.

My prayer for all of us is that we walk into this holiday with intentionality. What a gift to have space to contemplate the love, power, and presence of God in our lives. May the Lord be near and lead us all to a deeper awareness of just how much we have to be thankful for in this season.

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Are You Growing Spiritually?

If you’ve ever been to Chincoteague Island in southeastern Virginia, you’ve probably seen these chairs – people down there seem mildly obsessed with them (in a good way!). They’re also a really good reminder for us as we evaluate our own spiritual growth.

Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5 (CSB)

Paul was pretty clear that the goal of his preaching, pastoring, and church planting was to help people grow into the image and likeness of the God who is love. In other words, spiritual maturity is not measured primarily in terms of biblical knowledge acquired, dollars given, or hours served. All of those are important components of our discipleship but anything in our lives that is not rooted in love is not from God.

If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (CSB)

So, when you’re trying to figure out if you’re growing spiritually or not, make love the litmus test. If you’re becoming a more loving person (in ways defined by and motivated by the love of God as revealed in the gospel), you’re growing. If people aren’t experiencing you as a more loving person, you’re not growing. And we don’t need to figure out what love looks like. Paul’s got that one covered as well.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (CSB)

If we want to get a handle on our level of spiritual growth, we need to start asking each other better questions. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down with a trusted friend and process some of these questions that help us assess if we’re becoming more loving people?

  • Am I becoming more patient with_______ (spouse, kids, co-workers, hard to love people, parents?)
  • Am I increasingly able to celebrate the success of others?
  • Where am I unwilling to forgive? Why am I still holding that person’s sin against them?
  • Am I tempted to give up on a friendship just because things have gotten hard?
  • Am I finding enough joy in Christ to fight the fleeting pleasures of sin?

Stand Out From The Crowd

In last Sunday’s sermon, I shared a quote from RT France that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since I first read it. In his commentary on Matthew, France calls us to adopt “the distinctive lifestyle of disciples.” This phrase is a wonderful reminder that, as followers of Jesus, we’re meant to stand out from the crowd – not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, as Paul would say it. (Romans 12:1) Our lives should be visibly different because we’ve been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life by the grace of God. (Ephesians 2:5) And this distinctiveness should be a lifestyle for us, not just an occasional moment of spiritual courage.

It’s a beautiful vision for our lives but living it out is really hard; in fact, it’s impossible without the power of the Spirit in our lives. But we need to rely on that Spirit in different ways in different seasons of our lives. While we’re all in different places and have different needs, here’s how I’ve seen this play out in the seasons of my life and in the lives of the people I pastor.

Courage

From our late teens to our mid 30’s, it takes a lot of courage to adopt the distinctive lifestyle of a disciple. It feels like the teachings of Jesus and your friend’s plans for the weekend are in constant conflict. People think you’re weird because you don’t live with your girlfriend, aren’t diving into the hookup scene, and stay under control at happy hour. And they’re more than happy to share their opinions about you and your distinct lifestyle, sometimes with you and sometimes behind your back. Some days you wonder if following Jesus is worth it. Would life be better if you eased up on the Jesus stuff and just went with the flow? I get it. I’ve been there. And I’ve given in to the temptation. But I was always left with the sense that I had traded true joy for fleeting pleasure, that I had turned my back on the life I wanted, and the One who gave me life.

Creativity

Somewhere around our mid-30’s, we start to chill out a bit, follower of Christ or not. Admittedly, this is more true for some than others but we all agree that a 40 year old trying to live like a 20 year old is a sad sight. Along the way, those of us who follow Jesus start to notice that the distinction between our lives and the lives of our non-Christian friends is a little less clear. Both single and married adults experience this but it seems to be most prevalent in married adults with children. Don’t get me wrong, the distinct lifestyle of a disciple still takes courage but it also takes a lot of creativity. Here are some questions I’m wrestling with as someone right in the middle of this season of life:

  • How does the gospel shape the way I honor and care for my body?
  • Am I showing my kids that the best things in life aren’t watched on a screen?
  • Are we willing to say no to the onslaught of playdates, birthday parties, activities, practices, and games that can dominate this season of life? More importantly, are we giving our kids a compelling why for the choices we’re making – time with family, time to rest, time for church?
  • Am I open to new experiences and different points of view? Am I still learning?
  • When was the last time we decided not to purchase something so that we could use the money to fund ministry?
  • How do we keep the romance in marriage so that our kids grow up wanting to be married, not afraid of it?
  • Are we still willing to take risks as a family? Especially with our finances – do we settle for the safety of giving or reach for the risk of generosity?
  • Do my neighbors see me as the kind of guy who is available for a meaningful conversation if they wanted to have one?
  • How do I treat my kid’s teachers, coaches, and the volunteers at RCCKids? Do I come off as entitled and disappointed or grateful?

Honestly, I love this season. But I also know how easy it is to drift into complacency. After all, I’m not doing anything all that bad! Fight that, stay fresh, get creative!

Love

Somewhere in our mid-50’s, we start to turn another corner. From what I can tell, this one is about love – whether or not love is the controlling motivation of our hearts. This season is all about what you chose to do when you don’t have to do anything. You’re less controlled by kids schedules, boss’ expectations, and financial pressure (ideally…I know that’s not true for everyone). So, what are you going to do with your life now that you don’t have to do anything with your life?

The distinctive lifestyle of a disciple is never easy. Courage, creativity, and love are always going to be in the mix, just to varying degrees. And Jesus is always going to be worth it, not in varying degrees but infinitely so.

Relational Pain of Ministry, Part 2

We often talk about the physical suffering and persecution the apostle Paul endured over the course of his ministry. Sadly, we tend to minimize or ignore the emotional and relational pain Paul experienced. That leaves us with this sense that if we haven’t been beaten for the gospel this week, we really haven’t been all that wounded. But our hearts and the Scripture tell a very different story. Yes, Paul is very specific about some of the physical suffering and persecution he endured (go read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). But, as we talked about in the last post, Paul is equally specific in 2 Timothy about the emotional and relational pain he experienced as a missionary, church planter, and pastor.

The pain Paul experienced leaves me asking a very basic question – how in the world did Paul keep going? Why didn’t he quit and just go back to being a member of the Roman upper class? That thought must have crossed his mind. He’s beaten by his enemies and deserted by his friends. He’s got people outside of the church throwing stones at him and people inside the church telling lies about him. It’s a mess. Yet, he still keeps going. How does he do it?

If you’ve served in ministry for any period of time, you know this is more than an academic or theoretical question. This is real. You pour your heart into leading a team at church and people bail on you. You love and serve people in your Community Group and then they ghost you. You mentor a newer Christian and they walk away from you over a minor disagreement. You preach your heart out and people find a new church because they want the sermon to be more…well, the answers to that one vary!

Fortunately, when it comes to how Paul endured, we’re not left guessing. If we jump back to 2 Timothy, we see that Paul keeps going for at least two reasons. I believe there are more but these are the two he highlights in this letter:

Strength From God

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. - 2 Timothy 4:17 

Paul’s knowledge of God wasn’t just theological, it was relational. God was an actual source of strength for Paul, who knew how to open the brokenness and woundedness of his heart to the healing and strengthening touch of God. Paul knew what it was to pour out His heart to God and allow the Spirit to make the love of God real in his soul. He didn’t just talk about God as a source of strength, He experienced God as a source of strength. There’s a huge difference between the two!

Encouragement From Others

We might be tempted to think 2 Timothy is one long venting session about all the difficult people who were making Paul’s life so hard. But that’s not at all the case. There are plenty of other names in 2 Timothy – and Paul recalls so many of them with tender fondness:

May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains - 2 Timothy 1:16

Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. - 2 Timothy 4:11

Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. - 2 Timothy 4:12

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.  Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.  Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. - 2 Timothy 4:19-22

Yes, community is risky. Today’s Onesiphorus can become tomorrow’s Demas. But Paul didn’t make the mistake of withdrawing into isolation. He knew community was a risk but he was also deeply convinced it was a risk worth taking. He knew he needed others to stay in the game for the long haul.

Putting It All Together

In 2 Timothy, Paul is not only showing us that ministry is filled with highs and lows but he is also showing us how to engage those realities in a way that enhances our endurance. If you read all the way through 2 TImothy, you will see how Paul juxtaposes verses about relational and emotional pain with verses about the faithfulness of God and his friends. Paul almost always acknowledges the relational pain of ministry first but then almost immediately follows it with a reminder of how he has been strengthened and encouraged. The order matters. A lot!

Paul is able to talk honestly about his pain and to grieve his losses. But he doesn’t stop there and allow himself to believe that everything is falling apart around him. He consciously brings himself (and us) back to the faithfulness of God and the blessings of community. We need to do the same – embrace honesty but also learn how to lead our hearts to hope in the power of God and the goodness of community.

Relational Pain of Ministry, Part 1

I take a lot of comfort from the fact that the apostle Paul was no stranger to the relational pain of ministry. Things didn’t always go well for him. Paul often felt alone, abandoned, rejected, and hurt by the people he felt called to love and serve. Look at how honest he is about the relational pain of ministry is 2 Timothy.

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth  (2 Timothy 2:16-18) 

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  (2 Timothy 4:10) 

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.  (2 Timothy 4:14-15) 

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:16) 

That’s a lot of hurt in one letter!

In the next post, we’ll talk about how Paul was able to keep going despite all of the relational pain of ministry. But, for today, I want to make one simple observation – Paul is able to talk about the relational pain of ministry without any shame. He isn’t trying to sweep this under the rug, gloss over it, deny his emotions, or explain it all away. He’s starkly realistic and at times shockingly willing to use real names. He doesn’t hide behind generalities and spiritual platitudes. Demas deserted him. Alexander did him a lot of harm. Hymenaeus and Philetus allowed gossip to morph into heresy. Phygelus and Hermogenes were out (and they obviously took a lot of people with them!). He was on trial for the gospel and no one showed up to offer encouragement.

While Paul no doubt felt sadness and hurt over these losses and woundings, he didn’t feel shame. He didn’t make the automatic assumption that he did something wrong, that he was a failure, that he never should have become an apostle, that he’s the problem, that he should just quit. In other words, he didn’t interpret the actions of others exclusively through the lens of his personal failure. He was aware that there’s always more to the story and he was aware of his weaknesses and shortcomings as a leader. He was able to bring his sin and the sin of others to God in a way that liberated his soul from shame.

Do I think we need to be careful not to abuse this idea as leaders? Yes, when people leave our churches, community groups, and ministry teams, we should be willing to ask questions about how we could have done better, about ways we could have served them better, about ways we need to grow. The point of what Paul is sharing here is not to give pastors, elders, and leaders in the church license to constantly blame others.

The point is to remind us that relational pain is part of ministry and we can talk about it without shame. We can talk about it in ways that are honest, specific, and ultimately redemptive. We’ll do more of that in the next post. But for today, here are a few questions that might be helpful to process in your journal or with a close friend:

  • When have you felt the relational pain of ministry? Describe the hurt you felt.
  • What story did you tell yourself to make sense of the pain you were feeling?
  • Was your sense of pain also accompanied by a sense of shame or guilt? How so?
  • Who are you able to process the relational pain of ministry with on a regular basis? Who are some of the people that could become these kinds of friends?

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

What Is God Doing, Right Now?

I just recorded a quick video devotional for our elder team as we head into our monthly meeting this weekend. I had some things I wanted to share with them from my heart, from God’s Word, and from some recent experiences we’ve had as a team shepherding a local church. By the grace of God, I think it was helpful and I pray they will share my excitement for what I think God is saying to us through His Word.

There was only one thing wrong with the whole experience – it wasn’t anywhere on my list of things to do this morning!

I came into the day with a meticulously crafted plan for how I was going to use this morning and what I needed to get done. It was all good stuff (and I did get a decent amount of it done), however, this video wasn’t on the list. But as I sat here trying to work on other things, my mind kept coming back to this desire to share with our elders. I found myself putting a devotional together in my head. I found myself getting excited about recording something simply to bless and encourage a small team that means a great deal to me. Despite all that, I initially fought against all of this as a distraction from what I needed to be doing – it wasn’t on the list!! Sure, it was a good idea but it was something I could schedule for another time this week.

Ultimately, I felt this little prompting in my heart to abandon my plan and record the video. That prompting was followed by a deeper question – do you want to join God in what He’s doing this morning or do your own thing without God?

It was a pretty stark choice – plow through my list in my strength or cooperate with what God was intending to do in my life. Fortunately, in this instance I made the right choice and decided to go with God. But that’s not always the case. I can be really guilty of ignoring what the Spirit is doing in the moment because of my preconceived plans and ideas.

That’s such a mistake, particularly for those of us in spiritual leadership. When God invites us to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14), and keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), He envisions us living with sensitivity and submission to what the Spirit is doing in our lives moment by moment. The question isn’t just “what is God doing in the world today” but “what is God doing in my life, right now?” It turns out the Spirit is somewhat unpredictable and often does things I don’t expect. But life is found in getting on board with what He is actually doing, not what I thought He would be doing!

So, don’t miss out on the adventure of following God today because you’re so locked up in your plans that you miss His still, small voice.

The Church Is Not A Hotel

Back in December, Laura and I got away for an incredible weekend to rest, celebrate, and talk about everything God was doing in our lives. While we were away, we realized it was only the second time we had stayed in a hotel together since March of 2020. Note: the hotel pictured above is NOT where we stayed but I wouldn’t be opposed! Additional Note: the kids were with us the other time we stayed in a hotel, so that didn’t really count!

Anyway, my point is that staying in a hotel has changed a bit thanks to Covid and the labor market. Biggest change? Housekeeping only cleans the room when you check out or upon request (at least where we were). In the grand scheme of things, that is completely NOT a big deal. But it does mean that they don’t show up and make your bed for you, which hits a little closer to home. In our marriage, I’m the one who makes the bed, mainly because I can be a little neurotic and it’s just better for everyone that way. So, one of the things I love most about hotels is having someone else make my bed for me and I was a little annoyed that I was going to have to do it myself. By the way, if you, like Laura, are tempted to point out that I didn’t have to make the bed, you have failed to appreciate just how neurotic I can be.

So, I made my own bed. In a hotel. And I thought, “Maybe I won’t come back until they’re ready to start making beds again.”

Some days I wonder how many of us think the same way about the church – maybe I won’t come back until they’re ready to…

But here’s the thing, the church isn’t a hotel. We’re a community, a family, a body. We don’t hire people to make our beds, we make our own beds. And I wouldn’t want it any other way because that’s how we grow and change. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to be our spiritual concierge. He came to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God, to offer His life as our ransom, and to invite us to be active participants in His work in the world.

If we’re sitting around waiting for someone else to make our bed, we’re missing the point. Jesus invites us to see ourselves, the church, and the world differently. Where can we serve others? What do we contribute to the body? How are we wired to participate in God’s redeeming and restoring work in the world?

As Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 CSB)

Photo by Yuliya Pankevich on Unsplash

Contemplatives In Action

Those of you who live in the DC area may be able to figure out where I took this picture. If you go to National Harbor in Maryland, you’ll find a long walking/jogging/biking trail that curves around the waterfront before ultimately extending up and over the Wilson Bridge on the Beltway. When you get to the top of that path, you see this unique juxtaposition of a beautiful river, a bustling commercial center, a gorgeous park, and a massive freeway. It’s honestly one of my favorite places in DC. So, one day last fall when Laura and I were there, I snapped this picture because I was totally captivated by the contrast between the trees in their full fall colors and the rush of the beltway.

As I’ve sat with this picture for a couple of months, I’ve realized how much it embodies the way I want to live my life. During my four years as an undergrad at Georgetown, I picked up a few phrases from the Jesuits (the order of Catholic priests who founded Georgetown) that have become deeply significant in my life. The one that resonates the most with me is the Jesuit ideal of being a contemplative in action.

Being a ‘contemplative in action’ means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.

Andy Otto

In other words, I need the hustle and bustle of the beltway and the quiet of a park with beautiful trees and a majestic river. It takes both to follow God well and following God well will result in both being present in our lives.

The Contemplative Life

Modern day contemplatives are essentially seeking to bring the ancient riches of Christian mysticism and monasticism into the frenzy of our nonstop, over scheduled, and technology driven 21st century American lives. These modern mystics talk about practices like Sabbath, fixed hour prayer, meditation, rest, simplicity, silence, and solitude. They delight in slowing down to be with God, to be present in the moment, and to hear the still small voice of the Spirit.

It’s a beautiful way to live life.

But ten years ago, I would have told you that a contemplative life is at best an anachronistic thrown back and at worst a bunch of feel-good, new age nonsense for the emotionally needy. Marriage, parenting, planting a church, reading more broadly, and following Jesus more closely has shown me just how wrong I was.

I now realize that the contemplative life is essential to our spiritual formation. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Christianity is simply an external moral code to be followed in an attempt to please God. It’s not. It’s an invitation to be transformed from the inside out by the grace of a God who did everything necessary for our salvation on the wood of a cross. It’s an invitation to come fully alive, to cultivate intimacy with the Creator of the world, and to enjoy life as a child of God. But here’s the thing: that inner transformation doesn’t happen on the fly. It requires us to open the deepest parts of our soul to God’s healing and restorative work.

To put it as simply as I can: If you want to grow and change, you’ve got to slow down.

The Active Life

As we grow and change, we not only realize the depth of God’s love and concern for the world but also start to embody that love. You can’t have a deep relationship with Jesus and be indifferent to the pain and suffering of the world around you. Christ doesn’t call us to withdraw permanently from the world. Rather, He invites us to join Him in His work of reconciling sinners to God (that’s all of us, by the way) and renewing creation. He invites us to take up a cross, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

In many ways, this is what comes most naturally to those of us who have spent significant time in the action oriented world of evangelicalism. There’s always an event to attend, a place to serve, a mission trip to take, a need to meet. And none of that is bad. The world desperately needs the hope that we carry in our souls. We are constantly surrounded by brokenness, hostility, incivility, and fear. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go into that world as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

The deeper you go with God, the more engaged you will be with what He is doing in the world.

Being A Contemplative In Action

Now you know why that picture means so much to me. We can’t pick either the contemplative life or the active life. Following Jesus requires a hearty yes to both. Action without contemplation leads to burnout, moral failure, legalism, and bitterness. Contemplation without action leads to complacency, self-absorption, and lingering questions of how much you’ve actually encountered the real Jesus. But when we join them together, when we become contemplatives in action, it unleashes something powerful in us and in our world.

That’s my prayer for you today. Don’t allow yourself to settle for a monochromatic relationship with God. Find a quiet parks and dive into the hustle of the city.

Wind and Waves

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

I’ve felt a lot like Peter over the last two months. The only difference is that I didn’t chose to get out of the boat. I wasn’t looking for this kind of faith building moment with Jesus. We were all ejected out of the boat of comfort, control, and stability by a virus and now we’re all navigating a storm formed by the winds of a public health and economic crisis. Every step we take feels so tentative, uncertain, and unstable. I think we’re all learning that walking on water really is pretty hard.

As I try to figure out life in this season, it’s deeply comforting for me to know that this storm isn’t catching Jesus by surprise. If anything, He allowed us to sail into it because He intends to meet us in it. That was certainly true for Peter and his crew 2,000 years ago. This passage in Matthew 14 comes right after Jesus just fed 20,000 people, a pretty massive display of power. As soon as the crowd had been fed, Jesus sent His disciples out ahead of Him onto the Sea of Galilee. He knew they were tired and He wanted some time alone with His Father so he sent them ahead. Maybe you see it differently but I don’t think the Guy who just fed 20,000 people was unaware of the weather forecast. I think He knew a storm was coming and while He didn’t take any pleasure in the terror His followers would feel, He did have something for them that they could only experience in the storm.

Are you willing to believe that the God of Heaven has something for you in the midst of this storm? Something you could only receive in a storm?

As we face the challenges of this season, we need to aim for more than simply riding out the wind and waves. Our goal needs to be finding Jesus in the storm. We need to look for how and where and when He’s coming to us. We need to listen for His voice. You’ll recognize it as the one whispering, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) In the face of all the wind and waves, Jesus will be the One drawing near in love, offering us the grace to do the impossible.

But then, all of the sudden, Peter is out of the boat. Walking on water is impossible on a calm day but Peter is trying to do it on top of a sea that was constantly moving, changing, evolving. Anyone else’s life feel like that right now? Some days the storm blows fierce and raw. Others days it feels more gentle. But it never feels normal. The sea never stops moving.

There’s really only one option when you’re trying to walk on the top of a heaving sea. Keep your eyes on Jesus. That’s a big part of what we learn from Peter, isn’t it? When he takes His eyes off of Jesus, he starts to sink. Same for us. The funny part is that we can sink in one of two different directions.

Sinking into panic is the easy and obvious one. Our church hasn’t met in person since Sunday, March 8th and I have no idea when we’ll be able to gather again. We’re financially dependant on the generosity of others and really like getting a lot of people into the same room at the same time. What if people give up on our church? What if they find one that’s more broadcast savvy than we are? What if, what if, what if…..

Pride and false confidence give us a second, less obvious but equally deadly way to sink. God has been really good to our church. People are staying engaged in Community Groups and continuing to give. We’re helping people in our community stay in their homes through our partnerships with Casa Chirilagua and Gunston Middle School. People are being patient with us while we figure out virtual church and Chris Kim is doing a fantastic job leading us in worship each Sunday.

It’s really weird how I can be in panic one moment and indulging a prideful sense of “we’ve got this” the next. But both lead me to sink. Both threaten to tug my soul under the waves. Both tempt me to give up. And both are answered by keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. He’s the One who truly knows how to dance on the waves. He’s the One who isn’t worried, isn’t stressed, and isn’t ever going to leave us.

Even when we get it wrong, Jesus is right there to grab us by the hand. The second Peter starts to go under the waves and reaches out to Jesus, Jesus grabs his hand. He doesn’t let him sink a bit more just to prove a point. That’s not how Jesus operates. He’s right there, ready to take us by the hand and remind us that it’s safe to put all of our faith in Him.

Don’t let pride or panic tug you under the waves. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the One who will give us everything we need to walk on water.

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

One Thing

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

I have come back to this passage over and over again as we press deeper into this period of social distancing. I keep coming back because I keep seeing so much of Martha in myself. Her issue isn’t that she’s working. That’s not what this passage is about at all. Martha’s problem is that she’s distracted, anxious, and troubled. That’s what Jesus points out. That’s what Jesus wants to lead her out of and it’s what He wants to lead us out of as well. I keep coming back because I need the daily reminder that the one thing we truly need is the one thing that can never be taken from us. I keep coming back to hear the voice of God, the voice that melts anxiety, fear, and distraction.

And I’m not the only one who needs to keep coming back to this truth. We all do. I read an article yesterday that told us that 43% of American adults say their emotional health has gotten worse over the past week. For what it’s worth, I also think that means 57% of survey respondent are either (a) way more spiritually mature than I am or (b) lying. You decide! But I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling a little distracted these days. It’s where our hearts and minds naturally go during times of uncertainty and upheaval. And, now, we have 24/7 internet access to relentlessly fuel it all.

All of which means we need to cultivate rhythms that enable us to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His voice, even in the midst of a pandemic. He’s speaking through the miracle of His Word and the presence of His Spirit. He’s inviting us to believe that He’s real, to believe that He’s still good, and to believe that He’s still for us and not against us. He’s inviting us to make King David’s prayer our prayer during this time:

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul.

Psalm 86:11-13

Those rhythms are going to look a little different for each of us but here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

  • Getting up at the same time I always do to spend time with God in the quiet of the morning.
  • Only allowing myself to check the news and social media twice a day. For what it’s worth, this is the hardest one for me!
  • Pausing 2-3 times during the day to be still, to pray, and to read a short passage of Scripture.
  • Participating in our RCC Prayer Nights every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 8PM.
  • Continuing to practice a weekly Sabbath.
  • Intentionally engaging with the sermon and other Sunday morning content we make available rather than having it play in the background while I multi-task.
  • Continuing to meet with my Community Group, just online.
  • Going to bed at the same time I always do so I can get up and do it all again tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, teach us to listen. Teach us to hear your voice. Teach us to enjoy Your presence. Help us step away from the chaos and to just be still.