Out for a Walk

Every morning, and most evenings, I am greeted by the oddest sights… I see a whole bunch of couples out for a stroll.  Most of them seem happy, which seems strange to me. I’m sure almost all of these folks have perfectly decent cars in their driveways, don’t they?

I spoke with my Dad a few days ago, and my youngest son asked his Grandpa if they could go golfing, together, sometime.  My son is pretty young and has never golfed, as far as I am aware. Now I think my Dad would absolutely love to take my kids golfing.  Me, I always figured if you’re just going to go chasing the fool ball all over the place, it’d be easier to — I don’t know — NOT hit it in the first place.

The few times I went along with my Dad, when I was a kid, I started to get a hint of why he enjoyed the sport, and it’s probably why all those crazy couples will get out in the morning and traipse all over the town.

They’ve all discovered the joy of walking together.  They’re on a journey and enjoying the company along the way.  They’re sharing life, talking almost as much as walking, sometimes laughing, sometimes not, but always sharing.

In Hebrews chapter 11, we read of a man named Enoch, who was commended for his faith.  

By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death. He was not to be found because God took him away. For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God.

— Hebrews 11:5

Enoch was a man who pleased God.  I’d sure like Him to say that about me, someday, wouldn’t you?

What was His secret?  For a hint, we’ll need to look closer at Enoch from his other appearance in the Scriptures, all the way back in the book of Genesis.  In chapter 5, we find this:

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

— Genesis 5:21-24

Did you catch the repeated phrase describing Enoch?

Twice, we read: “Enoch walked faithfully with God”.

What a beautiful depiction of Enoch’s life, and what a profound turn of phrase.  Just like the couples walking together, and the group of golfers, Enoch knew the joy of walking together with someone — with God.  

We can too.

Walking with God isn’t quite the same as taking a morning jog with a partner, but it’s not quite as different as you might think, either.

For one, walking with God involves movement, it involves effort.  I’ve seen some of those folks running in the morning who are straining to push themselves to go further, last longer, move quicker.  I’ll bet some of them are even sore after the run. Often, God is going to ask us to push ourselves, trying things that are uncomfortable that stretch us in unexpected ways.  Stretching and straining are how we grow.

We’re not supposed to stop, not until we’ve reached our destination, anyway.  The Bible tells us God is making us into the image of His Son, and that means change, it means movement. He’s leading you onward. You’re not supposed to find a comfy spot to stop. He has so much more in store for you; but, only if you start heading where He’s leading.  What is He asking you to stop? To start? To keep doing? Have you asked Him, lately? I dare you to try. 

Oh, and guess which one has a better view of the road ahead?  If one of the two ought to lead, I think we know which one it should be.  Oddly, I keep trying to go where I want to go.  I’ve got the route all mapped out (most of the time) and if I follow my plan, I’ll definitely end up somewhere, but the results won’t be as rewarding as they could’ve been.

I’ve never seen people on a walk (golf course or not) keep going in absolute silence, have you?  Walking with God means communicating with Him, too.  He wants in, not to boss you around, but to have a lifelong conversation with you. 

Sometimes He’ll talk, sometimes you will — He’s listening.  Tell Him anything you like, and enjoy the refreshing time talking with someone who you don’t have to trick into liking you.  You don’t need to try to pretend to be anything with Him — He already knows exactly who you are, and He loves you.

Paying attention to what He has to say, through His written Word, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, following the example of Jesus, and our own heartfelt and thoughtful prayers (both talking and listening) can help us stay on the right path with Him.  

If we want to walk with God, we’re going to have to get moving, follow where He leads no matter how challenging the path, and trust Him enough to openly and honestly share our lives with Him.

If we do, if we really walk with Him, we cannot imagine where He will lead us, and that’s a promise from Him.

 

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John 21 – Taking the Plunge

As we take one last look at the gospel of John, chapter 21, we find Jesus appearing to His disciples again, this time on the shore of the sea where they’ve been fishing. Fishing… all night… with nothing to show for it.

This little fishing expedition was Peter’s idea, and his day was about to take a major swerve. They couldn’t tell who was calling to them from the shore, but whoever it was, He had the knack for fishing. When He told them to let down their nets, they caught so many fish they struggled to haul them all in.

Peter’s mind must have flashed to the loaves and fishes that fed the multitude, or Lazarus coming out of the tomb. He knew the man on the shore had to be Jesus.

We could learn a lot from Peter’s reaction.

Continue reading “John 21 – Taking the Plunge”

John 5 – Claims and Proof

Ever been on a job interview?  I wouldn’t exactly call them fun.  You spend a lot of time (hopefully) preparing for an all-too-brief opportunity to impress your audience with your charisma, intelligence, character, and skills trying to convince the person on the other side of the table that you’re clearly the best candidate for whatever it is they need you to do.  You try to demonstrate why you’re qualified for the work, and how you have the capacity to do the job.

In John chapter 5, we see Jesus facing significantly more scrutiny than one of my job interviews, but in the end, it might have felt like one.  He was dealing with a group of people that doubted Him, questioned His authority, and asked for His credentials.

Jesus began this interaction by demonstrating His power.  He healed a man who had been bed-ridden for nearly four decades.  He told the man to get up and take a walk. The man did so. Seems simple, right?

The religious leaders of the day, more than a little unsettled by the astonishing actions and teachings of Jesus, spotted a problem, at least as far as they were concerned.  You see, Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath, telling him to take his mat and go home. According to their very strict interpretation of the Old Testament law, that meant both Jesus and the man who was healed were guilty of working on the Sabbath.  

They began to question Jesus… mostly about why He thought He had the right to do something so outrageous.

Jesus answered them with several reasons and proofs, but before He did He made the startling claim that God was His Father, a claim they interpreted as meaning Jesus was equal to God, and certainly above them.

Jesus’ claims (think of them as His resume) went something like this:

  1. He did the things God would do and He had seen God do.
  2. He claimed the authority to judge the world and the righteousness to be just.
  3. He predicted the dead would hear His voice and respond.
  4. He offered eternal life to all who believed in Him

He also offered several references.  Here are a few of those who would vouch for Him:

  1. God the Father — who had testified, audibly, at Jesus’ baptism
  2. John the Baptist — who also testified before and after Jesus’ baptism
  3. Jesus’ Own Miracles — which served as very obvious demonstrations of His power
  4. Moses — whom they revered, and who wrote about Jesus long before His birth

Unfortunately, these hard-hearted religious zealots wasted their opportunity to put Christ in the position He deserved in their lives.  They refused to recognize Him for who He is, and decided to keep the position of leader of their lives to themselves.

They lost far more than they knew.

We don’t have to make the same mistake.

Measuring Up?

 

“Well, that’s a familiar sight.”

I pull into the parking space and start to get out of my car, and notice, not at all for the first time, I’m being watched.  No, not by some creepy stalker, but by the parking space vigilantes, the placard police, as I like to think of them.

When they see me pulling into the handicap accessible space, they’re not quite sure what I’m doing there.  From the shoulders and above view of me they get while I’m pulling in, I certainly don’t look feeble enough to need the space.

Then, I get out.

As I begin my very obvious Cerebral-Palsy-induced wobble to the store, I can see them looking at me.  As soon as they see my peculiar walk, they usually realize they were mistaken.  When I make eye contact and give them a friendly smile, they usually look embarrassed and then look away.

You might think I would never behave that way, myself — making a snap judgment about someone else’s need for help or physical capabilities — but, you’d be wrong.  If I pull into the lot and can’t find one of those precious reserved parking spaces available, I tend to wonder if all those people parked there really need the space as much as I do.

And there it is: does that other person deserve the parking space (or the promotion at work, or the blessing from God, or the whatever-it-is) that I think I should have?  Maybe they need it more.

We can easily make a full-time profession out of comparing ourselves to one another, and we can do it for every reason imaginable.  We’re especially good at it in the Church.  We wonder if we can ever hope to measure up to the pillars of the Church, or we thank God we’re not as bad off as “them”, whoever “they” happen to be.

Oh, both kinds of comparisons, the ones where we think we don’t measure up, and the ones where we think someone else doesn’t, can actually start with the very best of intentions.

When we attempt to model the spiritual maturity we see in admirable folks around us, we can be engaging in a healthy comparison.  The Apostle Paul encourages his readers to “follow me as I follow Christ”, after all.  How are we supposed to follow Christ if we never examine how we don’t measure up.  I try to emulate parents, pastors, and teachers I know and respect — and I hope you have such good influences in your life, as well.

There are a few snares waiting to trap us when we make those kinds of comparisons, though. Let me share a few of them with you.

Sadly, we can be let down when those we admire make mistakes — and they will.  Only one person, Jesus Christ, ever lived a life completely devoid of screw ups… everyone else falls short, sometimes.  We need to recognize when our heroes do stumble, forgive them, help them up, and not make the same mistakes.

We can also set ourselves up for frustration when we try to be someone we’re not.  That icon we look up to may never struggle with the issues that hound us because they are not us.  We might find they would struggle as much as we do, if not more if they were in our shoes.  But, because they aren’t us, we can set an unrealistic standard for ourselves.  We can wear ourselves out trying to be them when God has uniquely equipped us to be us, instead.

Not only can we get tripped up when our examples falter and when we assume we ought to be able to handle everything as well as they do, but we also run the risk of following them too closely.  Just because someone I deeply respect and admire focuses their life on ministering one particular way does not mean God has that same path in mind for me.  Maybe my path is going to run close to theirs for a while, but no story is exactly the same.  I can’t hijack their path — at some point, God will steer me to something different, if I don’t allow myself to become fixated on doing it exactly the same way as someone else.

Yes, comparing myself to Godly examples can be helpful, but not if we carry the comparison too far.

What about the other kind of comparison: you know, the kind where we size up the other guy and come to the conclusion we’re the ones out front?  I know that sounds judgmental, but it doesn’t have to start that way.

At first, we’re truly trying to help, and the Bible does tell the more mature to instruct the less, so there’s definitely a scriptural precedent for providing Godly counsel; and there are times when each of us really does need a little correction, but there’s a fine line between counseling and criticism.  Our tendency to try to help one another can quickly become judgmental in nature.

Those Judaizers, the group Paul was dealing with in Galatians 5, fell into this trap of thinking their way of doing things was superior.  Even if they meant to help, and I am not sure they did, the result was predictable.  One group decided the other group was somehow “lesser than” because of their “holiness” checklist.  Judgment and confusion crept in.

As we mentioned last time, God didn’t call us to follow a new and better list of do’s and don’ts; but, we often revert to one — ours — and we start the comparisons.  We think we’re comparing others to Him when we’re really comparing them to some imaginary version of ourselves that “has it all together.”

Appearances can be deceiving.  Like evaluating my physical disability before I’ve gotten out of the car — not all struggles are obvious.  This is especially true when we get to spiritual, emotional, mental, or moral struggles.  We tend to think of others in terms of ourselves, but they’re not us.

We might not be so much better, and they might not be so much worse.  Our evaluations about others are flawed, limited by an external view of the other person.  Our opinion of ourselves can also be very flawed.  We might never know just how far someone else has already come in their struggles when we make our snap judgments and quick comments — which have the power to crush as much as help.  Such was the case with the group demanding the Gentiles needed to “get right”.  Turns out, they were the ones in the wrong!

So, how do we avoid the traps that arise when we start comparing ourselves to others?

I find it helpful to realize that God wants to work in me as much as He wants to work in them.  If He hasn’t finished with me, yet, maybe I shouldn’t expect Him to already be done working on them.  We are all a work in progress, and I don’t know about you, but I suspect my time would be better spent figuring out how I can be more like Jesus than worrying about how someone else needs to improve.