Find Life Around a Table

Can you picture a time of warmth around a table from your youth? It doesn’t take me long. As a young boy we took trips to northeast Arkansas to see my grandparents. We’d make our way past Texarkana and start checking off the towns: Hope, then Prescott. We’d move on to Little Rock, Searcy, then on to Hoxie and Walnut Ridge. Once there we knew Pocahontas was near. The car would snake its way through the town square and out towards Attica. If you blinked, you’d miss it. The General Store was on the left side of the road. The Baptist Church on the other.

But then over a few more hills and we’d turn onto the gravel road on the left and up to Granny and Pop’s house. By the time Dad parked the car they’d be on the front porch ready for two little boys to come running for hugs.

We had lots of fun on their farm. We’d try to help Pop “slop the hogs.” We’d catch fireflies. We’d crank homemade ice cream and ride our pony. But if I had to picture a time of warmth around a table it would be there. When the food was ready we’d all gather around the table: Pop, Granny, Mom and Dad, me and my brother. Pop would say the prayer. And we’d enjoy the meal together.

The warmth came not so much from the meal itself but because we were together and I knew that these people loved me and I loved them. Even my older brother. I had to. Mom said so. We were family.

Meals should be important to us because they were important to Jesus. Some scholars have said that “Jesus ate his way through the gospels.” Sharing meals was a significant thing in Jesus’ culture. There were social boundary markers in the Jewish world. And one way those boundaries were kept intact was by who received invitations to a meal and who did not.

Jesus came along and upended the social boundaries. Sure, he ate with his closest friends. That goes without saying. You know that from scripture but if not, you at least would know that from Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Milan.

But Jesus did not only eat with those who were on the same journey with him. Jesus shared meals with people who saw things differently than he did. In Luke 7 Jesus eats at a Pharisee’s house. Jesus is reclining at the table with him. We need to remember that there are times we need to sit down with people we may not totally agree with and offer them our friendship. We might even give them a glimpse of the Kingdom.

And Jesus shared meals with people who lived differently than he did. He was known to eat with tax collectors and sinners. “Tax collectors” were hated by their Jewish friends. “Sinners” was a catch-all term for people who were obviously wicked. Tax collectors would fit into this category. But so would criminals and prostitutes. They had no place to fit in regular society so they fit with each other. When Matthew starts following Jesus he invites him to his house for a meal. We’re told that “many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus…” They were comfortable being with Jesus. And Jesus was comfortable with them.

Jesus ate his way through the gospels. Sitting at table with others meant they were accepted. They belonged. Maybe we should eat our way to life. Start with your family. If you are used to eating in different shifts or in different places around the house, begin by eating together at the table.

Move from there to inviting someone over to your house for dinner. Think about your neighbors and friends. From time to time you may want to throw a party and have a larger circle of people over.

When you can, eat family style. Sharing a meal includes passing plates and caring for each other in that way too.

Remember, you don’t have to be a great conversationalist. But you can learn to be a great questioner. Ask questions. Ask about a person’s day. What was good? What was not so good? Hear their story.

It’s a cold world out there. But warmth can be found around a table. We’d better get used to it. I’m told there is a banquet awaiting us at the Father’s house.

Question: What are your favorite memories around a table?

Don’t Squib-Kick Through Life

While in Italy in June I was asked to do two things I had never done before. The first was to try Horse Tartare. It wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. The second was to be the ceremonial kick-off kicker in an American football game for the Parma Panthers. It was worse than you might imagine.

keijj44 / Pixabay

The Panthers became famous on account of John Grisham’s book Playing for Pizza. In 2008 Karen and I went to Parma because we had read the book and I wanted to see one of the games in the Italian Football League. We missed the game but got to meet the owner and his wife: Ivano and Bea Tira.

We’ve forged a friendship over the years and this summer we finally made it to a game. The Panthers were in the first round of the playoffs. In the days leading up to the game Ivano looked at me with a wicked smile on his face and said, “Rick, I want you to kick-off for us at the game.”

I thought he was kidding. I figured we’d get to the game and he’d have me conduct the coin toss. That didn’t happen. We were standing on the sideline and suddenly Ivano said, “You ready?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “OK. So we’ll go out on the field now and you will kick. You sure that’s OK?” I laughed and said, “Well, it won’t be pretty because I don’t kick footballs. But I’ll do it for you.”

I assured the real kicker he would not lose his job. Ivano said, “Now it’s time.” I turned around and saw the other team lined up. There was no turning back. It quickly dawned on me I had not planned out what I would do if he really was serious about the kick. I had no idea what I was doing so I stutter-stepped my way to the ball and kicked it straight on. (If you want a good laugh you can see it here)

My nephew Ryan—who played soccer and was his high school football team’s kicker—was watching from the sideline. He later said, “That was as wrong of a kick as possible.” The announcer called my 15-yard low spinning kick a Squib-Kick. It was ugly.

Sometimes our lives are like Squib-Kicks. Instead of hitting the sweet spot and sending the ball soaring we stutter-step our way through and end up with something ugly. And the reason is the same: we lack a plan for our lives.

Jesus didn’t. He knew exactly what he was to accomplish. You and I don’t have more to do than Jesus. He was here to save the world. And yet in three years he was able to tell the Father, “I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do.” In football terms he kicked it high, straight, and with distance.

Jesus had a plan and he gave us a plan: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” That’s the plan: make disciples. We learn from Jesus how to do what he would do if he were in our shoes.

And what would he do? He kept that simple too. “Love God. Love your neighbor.”

Instead of my terribly unplanned kick, our lives should be in sync with the plan God has given us to fulfill. But how do we do that when we are juggling multiple relational circles? A mentor of mine used to answer that question by saying: “Be a disciple. If you are learning to follow Jesus, you’ll learn from him how to make disciples. It will be natural.”

Jesus had many relational circles too: crowds, the 72, the 12, the 3 (Peter, James, John) and even the 1 (John). Jesus did not spend the same amount of time with everyone. But he did spend his time with everyone the same way…with purpose.

And so will we. What if you looked at your relational circles again with a plan? You won’t spend the same amount of time with everyone. But you will spend time with everyone the same way: with purpose.

It takes a plan. No Squib-Kicking allowed.

Question: How can you avoid a “Squib-Kick Life” starting today?

How to Find Community When You Can’t Find a Piazza

Karen and I were celebrating our 24th anniversary when I remarked, “You know, next year is our 25th anniversary. That’s a milestone. So I want to take you out to dinner somewhere special. You name it and we’ll go there.”

That’s a dangerous thing to tell your wives, men. I was thinking a restaurant somewhere in the Houston area. She answered, “OK. I choose Rome.” We had a love of Italy and I had made a promise so we started making plans.

We found a special place called The Library and reserved a table months in advance. The night finally arrived and it was a great celebration. After our meal we started meandering through the streets when we turned a corner and there it was: Piazza Novana.

It is one of the great piazzas in Italy. Ornate fountains, baroque buildings, street artists and performers make this the place to hang out. That night the piazza was full of people watching a live musical on a huge stage erected at one end. Piazzas are full of life.

Throughout Rome there are many smaller piazzas. They are the heart of the section of the city they are located in. Paths cross in the piazza. People meet in the piazzas. Piazzas are designed to encourage community.

It’s quite a contrast to our way of life. We drive home and put our car in the garage…if it will fit. The garage door closes and we enter the house. We might possibly have everyone in the family at the table at the same time, only to later go to their own separate rooms where each person has their own access to Wi-Fi, computers, and maybe a TV.

In America we live in a culture of individualism rather than a culture of community. How can that change? Looking at how Jesus created community will help.

Jesus created community around a common purpose.* Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word “repent” is not as “churchy” as it sounds. It literally means to “change your mind” or “change the direction you are going.”

This summer we left the Hertz Rental garage in Florence with our GPS ready to go. We turned right out onto the one-way street looking forward to enjoying a drive in the country on our way to a winery. But as soon as we hit the streets we realized the GPS was not working. More than once we determined we were heading in the wrong direction and turned the car around. You could say we “repented.”

That was Jesus’ purpose. And his followers had the same purpose: to help people turn and find their way into his kingdom.

Jesus also created community around common beliefs. Beliefs are important. Behaviors are based on beliefs. So Jesus taught what life in the kingdom was life. He knew what people believed would be seen in their behaviors. One example is Jesus taught that the marginalized had a place at his table. Some didn’t believe that and so only the approved ones would be invited to a literal table meal. In contrast, Jesus invited “tax collectors and sinners” to sit with him at many table meals. His community formed with people who believed what he believed. Community can be found with people who have common beliefs.

And then Jesus created community around a common place. The common place for Jesus was Galilee.  Jesus’ ministry began and ended there. Most of his ministry was spent traversing Galilee with people who lived in that region.

That’s how community is developed. People have to be together in a common place. Facebook won’t create it. Twitter can’t. FaceTime is better than no time. But it takes being in a common place for people to have the opportunity to look each other in the eyes and go deep into each other’s lives.

Who knows what could happen if we repent from our way of individualism and turn to Jesus’ way of community? We might find it. Even if we can’t find a piazza.

*These community ingredients inspired by Randy Frazee’s book The Connecting Church

Question: Where do you find community today?

Learn to Live “In this Moment”

In our first trip to Italy we stayed at Villa Rosalba. Rosalba was the woman who took care of the place and her guests. Álvaro, her husband, grew the lemons in their yard for limoncello and liked to talk. We bonded over his limoncello and our mutual love of tennis.

Unsplash / Pixabay

I noticed he had a favorite expression: “in this moment.” He’d say, “In this moment, Rick, my life is very good.” Later I read this about the Italians: “Italians see time as a flowing river. Once it flows past, you can never catch up to it. You can only sit on the banks of the river and appreciate what flows past right now–in this moment.”

Quite a contrast from the way we do things as Americans. We seem to always be trying to catch up to time. I remember a few years ago when our boys were still teenagers I bumped into an old college roommate by accident. He was catching me up on his life and his family. He ran a business and then ran his kids all over their major city for their sporting commitments. He said they change clothes in the car and eat in the car and go to sleep in the car.

I told him he needed to just buy a mobile home since he already had one. I haven’t heard from him since.

Does that sound anything like the way your life works? We assume everyone lives this way. We think it is part of a privileged life. And somehow we think it will eventually balance itself out. Someday. Maybe.

It was not so in the beginning. There is a flow in the creation account we ignore to our detriment. It’s not that we have not heard it. We have just ignored it. Here is the flow: there is work and there is rest.

God worked, or created, for six days. Then, on the seventh day, he rested. Later this is called the Sabbath. The Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Why this flow? Why this command? Because the Creator knows what is good for his creation. Rest is part of that “good.” He was able, at the end of his work, to look over everything he had made and say it was “very good.” Then he rested. He did not work.

How does that compare with your evenings? And how does that compare with your weekends? If you are anything like the people in a study the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence conducted, then you still work in your time off.

More than 50% of adults indicate they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend. They check before and after work during the work week. They even check on work when they are home sick. And 44% check on work when they are on vacation.

Apparently we do not know how to “vacate” even on vacation.

What if we started making small adjustments? Go home one night this week and put the phone, email, and Facebook away. Find one day over the next month to rest. Spend time with your family and friends. Linger longer at the table.

See if it makes a difference in your life. It should. You were wired to work and rest. You were created so that, at the end of the day you could say with my Italian friend: “In this moment, my life is very good.”

Question: How can you live more “in this moment” today?

 

 

 

Your Nickname Can Change Your Life

The nickname could have been crushing for some. For whatever reason it did not bother me. Here’s the story.

photovicky / Pixabay

When I was a teenager our youth group started a puppet ministry. Sounds kind of quaint now, but for some reason our team was a hit. This was before reality television so people had nothing better to do than to watch puppets. We performed at churches. We performed at events. We performed in the city.

Once we got an invitation to bring our show to the Cat Club. Our high school mascot was the Bobcat. Our youth minister thought it was the football booster club that issued the invitation, didn’t know why they’d want a puppet show, but figured that was about as good as it would get in San Angelo, Texas. We booked it only to show up and discover it was really the Cat Club. The Cat Club was made up of a bunch of older women who were crazy about cats.

One of our skits had to do with the rich man and Lazarus. The narrator would say Lazarus was a “diseased beggar.” I manned the Lazarus puppet and, since I was the youngest in the group, was nicknamed “the Beggar.” “The Beg” for short.

Maybe it was because I knew that behind the nickname was some brotherly love from the group I was fine with it. It stayed with me. I knew I wasn’t a diseased beggar. I was healthy and my parents had some money. But I also knew that I had a group around me who accepted me. In a strange way it gave me confidence.

Maybe you had a nickname growing up. Maybe you have one now. Nicknames can be detrimental if meant to be harmful. But they can also give a person a new identity.

Levi had a nickname and he must have loved it. “Levi” is the Hebrew name for the writer of the gospel called Matthew. Levi was the tax collector who was loathed by his Jewish friends and used by his Roman friends. The tax collector who one day packed up his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. The tax collector whose first act we know of was to invite people over to his house to be with Jesus.

Levi. That name may have been given to him by his parents in hopes he would become a rabbi or priest. We can imagine that he felt the disappointment from them too when he turned his back on their dreams for him and turned out to be a tax collector.

But he felt no disappointment from Jesus. Jesus called him “Matthew.” It most likely is a nickname. “Matthew” means “Gift of God.” Imagine how his new name changed his life. He had never felt like a gift to anyone before. His new identity sent him following Jesus and learning from him. Later it would send him as a missionary to Ethiopia to tell them about the “gift of God” to the world.

God loves to rename his people. Abram became Abraham: Father of many. Sarai became Sarah: Princess. Jacob became Israel: He strove with God and men and prevailed. Cephas became Peter: a rock.

Jesus gave Levi a vision of who he could be by nicknaming him Matthew: Gift of God. And he has given you a new name too. Try on “forgiven” for size. Or how about “saint”? “Friend” might fit you just fine.

And maybe “beggar” isn’t so bad after all. We’re told that when Martin Luther died a scrap of paper was found in his pocket. It read, “This is true. We are all beggars before God.”  Beggars that have been given an inheritance from the King.

How incredible is that?

Question: Did you have a nickname while growing up? Now? What nickname do you think God would give you?

 

Don’t Fear the Dragons

Remember Daniel? He’s the one in the lion’s den. Daniel’s story is about God’s people in captivity. They’re in Babylon. And Daniel and his friends show that they can stay true to God even when things look bad.

straw / Pixabay

Things like being thrown into a lion’s den. Or being thrown into a fiery furnace. Or when it looks like all sorts of monsters are coming after the people of God. In chapter seven Daniel has a dream about a winged lion, a bear with tusks, a four-headed leopard, and a gigantic monster with ten horns. These monsters are making war on the people of God.

You may look at the world today like that. The people of God are getting hammered on every side. You may think the government isn’t doing what it should to protect Christians. You may see that a secular world view is taking over. You may be worried about who the next president will be or if the next Supreme Court appointee will tip the balance to the liberal side. You may notice that church attendance is declining. Monsters on every side.

Jesus’ disciples felt the same way. The Roman government had taken control of their land. The Christians were being moved to the margins of society. When Matthew wrote his gospel they were being thrown out of the synagogues. They didn’t fit with the Jewish religion anymore. They didn’t fit with the Roman government. Monsters were making war with them on every side.

They think Jesus has come to rescue them by setting up a kingdom and crushing the Romans. We know that because when he told them he was going to die and on the third day be raised they only heard the word “die” and stopped listening. They didn’t much like his game plan.

And they forgot Daniel’s vision. In it “one like the son of man” comes and is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” Jesus’ favorite name for himself was “son of man.” He wasn’t being secretive about who he was. He was saying “I’m the one Daniel dreamed about.”

We want power. We don’t want death on a cross so much. That’s not what Peter signed up for. And it may not be what we signed up for. We sign up for power, don’t we?

  • If we follow Jesus, then our world will be set right.
  • If we have enough faith, then Jesus will heal us.
  • If we tithe, then the blessing of God will be showered down on us and that “blessing” is typically defined as “we’ll give some money and in return God will give us more money.”
  • If we get the right staff and the right marketing plan our church will grow quickly.
  • If we get the right politicians in office they will protect us and our way of life.

Daniel and Jesus would have us know that we don’t have to be afraid. Even when monsters are attacking us on every side. Even when our leader is being delivered over, beaten, and hung on a cross. We are people who don’t need the government or anyone else to protect us. God does that.

On the cross it looked like evil won. On the third day it looked like love won. So don’t be afraid.

There’s a line that is often misquoted from G.K. Chesterton. As best I can find the original line is put this way: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”[1]

Another way of saying Chesterton is:Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.[2]

Let’s be people of faith, not fear. Let’s be people that follow.

Question: What dragons need to be defeated in your life?

 

Let Go of Power and Live

We live in a day that is not so different than any previous day. We want power because power is the way the world seems to work. Power can come in many forms.

  • Power can be athletic power. Not just strength athletes have. But the notoriety that comes with it. Pictures all over the sports page. Endorsement deals. Billboards with their faces on it.
  • Power can be gained by good looks. Some are powerful in this world simply because they are beautiful or handsome. It’s a burden I’ve had to carry since birth.
  • Power can be yours if you are intelligent. Einstein was not known for his looks or athletic ability. But his gray matter mattered.
  • Power can come to the famous. With the growth of social media and reality TV some are famous for just being famous. They don’t have to contribute much of anything to society other than a tweet about where they are eating for lunch.
  • And power is in the hands of the rich. If you can fund your own political race you can run for president. You can get noticed.

That’s the way the world works. Unfortunately, that’s the way the church in America has worked too. It thinks:

  • “If we can just get our athletes to speak up for God, then we will look powerful.” Don’t believe me? Would you rather sit down with a refugee who has faith or with Tim Tebow?
  • “If our preachers and staff look healthy and have megawatt smiles we can attract more people.” Churches would never admit it, but look at staff pages on the web. Some try to outdo each other in looking good and witty and fun.
  • We think: “If we can be the ones who have the Scriptures all figured out and have all the right answers then power is ours.” Some position themselves as the ones who understand the Scriptures the best and are here to uphold the truth.
  • “If our leaders are known on the speaking circuit or have authored books or released a CD then we feel much better about ourselves.”

We see the desire for power most when we look at our American politics. The Christian base gets nervous if someone who does not fit into the Christian mold appears to be the front runner. Fear sets in and hope fades. When it does we want to grab any power we can.

Power is the way of the world. And we want it.

Jesus says the way of his kingdom involves sacrifice. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talks about “whoever loses his life” he meant die. Dying does not look powerful. Jesus did not look like he was the one in power as he carried his cross to Golgotha. The Roman government looked powerful. The religious system of his day looked powerful.

But Jesus practiced what he taught. He denied himself and lost his life for the sake of the kingdom. And you know how the story ended. After three days he rose. His lost life was “found.” And last time I checked his kingdom is still going strong.

Maybe we’ve got this whole “power” thing backwards. The church has always excelled when it was in the margins. Whenever it looks like it has power in the world’s sense it usually loses its way.

But when the church is depleted of the world’s kind of power it looks to the source of ultimate power. And according to Jesus that power is found in sacrificial love.

You won’t find your life by holding onto it. Let go today and live.

Question: How can you exhibit sacrificial love today?

 

Your Answer to this Question Makes all the Difference

Stanley Shipp was an original. Tall and thin with a bright twinkle in his eyes, Stanley loved life. And he loved people. I’m not sure he ever met a stranger. I embraced the few times I got to be with him for a few days. I watched him as he interacted with people. He told great stories and I hung on his every word.

Sophieja23 / Pixabay

One time he was with our church in San Angelo, TX. I had just begun youth ministry and had promised the church I would stay at least three years. They had suffered through three youth minister turnovers in the previous four years so I gave my word. Stanley was trying to entice me and a friend to join a church planting team to the northeast and explaining why.

“People will give money to missions before they will ever walk across the street and get to know their neighbors,” he said. My friend and I were quiet, letting the words sink in and secretly acknowledging the shoe fit us.

“People in our cities are hungry to know about God.” Stanley would get a tear in his eye when talking about lost people. He went on to tell about a time in St. Louis he and some younger people from the church went out to a restaurant together. They were talking about life and because Jesus was a big part of Stanley’s life you’d always wind up talking about him too.

A couple sitting in the adjoining booth leaned around and asked, “Are you talking about Jesus?” Stanley said, “Yes, we are.” The young woman said, “Would you mind if we joined you?”

Stanley pulled up two chairs and invited them over. Introductions ensued and small talk began. Finally, the young man said, “I want to ask you what does Jesus say about two people living together who are not married?”

Stanley paused the story. He looked at us and asked with a wry smile, “What would you have said?” Neither one of us wanted to answer because we knew whatever we said would not be as good as what Stanley said to the couple. So we pulled out a trick we learned from Jesus and threw a question back at him. “Hmmm…we need to think about that for a moment. What did you say?”

He said, “I looked at them and did what you just did…I asked them a question. I asked, ‘Well, let me ask you first: who is Jesus to you?’”

“Who is Jesus to us?” they responded. “Why are you asking us that?”

“Because,” Stanley said, “who he is to you makes a big difference in whether or not it matters what he says about two people living together before they are married.”

“Who is Jesus to you?” How would you answer that? Have you answered that? There is no shortage of answers people give. George Barna asked Americans “Who is Jesus?” and got these answers:

  • 92% believe Jesus was a real person.
  • 56% believe Jesus was God. 26% say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohommed or Buddha. 18% aren’t sure he was divine.
  • 52% believe Jesus was human, like us, and committed sins while he was on earth.
  • 6 out of 10 say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus. But only 46% of Millennials have. And only 53% of those making over $100K per year have.
  • And many adults believe they will go to heaven because of their good works, not their relationship with Jesus.

Who is Jesus to you? It is the most important question you can answer. How you answer it makes a world of difference in whether what he said makes a difference in your life or not.

Try a Yeast Free Diet for Greater Faith

When you have a question about yeast, who do you go to? Dr. Oz. You find out more than you want to know when you go to Dr. Oz. Things like how your intestines are lined with all kinds of bacteria. Some is good. Some is bad. When the balance gets out of whack yeast can take over. And when yeast takes over all sorts of mayhem can ensue.

Couleur / Pixabay

A few of the problems when yeast takes over include many chronic illnesses and symptoms like allergies, chronic inflammation, joint problems, mood and brain disorders, digestive symptoms and more.

The good doctor even lists ways to fight the overgrowth of yeast: Cut out yeast, use probiotics, and combat yeast directly.

You need to know about yeast. Not just because America’s Doctor says so. But because the Great Physician says so. In talking to his disciples Jesus warned them, “‘Be careful! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ His followers discussed the meaning of this, saying, ‘He said this because we have no bread.’”

The disciples understood yeast because they liked bread. Bread was a staple of their diet. That’s why when a crowd appeared in the “desolate place” and were hungry they found five loaves and two fish that they could share with five thousand men, plus women and children. They brought what they had to Jesus, he blessed it, and they passed it around until everyone was fed. They even had twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left for themselves. The word for “baskets” is a word for a lunch-pail-sized basket. A kophinos.

It would be hard to forget that experience, wouldn’t it? Especially when it happens again. A mere chapter later another crowd has formed. This time there are four thousand men, besides women and children. Same thing happens. This time they have seven loaves and a few small fish. And when it’s all said and done there are seven baskets left over. This time “baskets” is spyris, a larger basket than before. It’s man-sized (see Acts 9:25 where the same word is used).

Then Jesus gives his warning about yeast. The disciples think Jesus is talking about the fact that they forgot to bring bread. But Jesus is talking about faith. Specifically, “little faith.” “O you of little faith” he says to his disciples. He wants their faith to grow.

But sometimes unfaith grows instead. Jesus warned his followers of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their “yeast” is unfaith. Disbelief. Already the crowd is shrinking from five thousand to four thousand. It took less to feed more the first time around. Now it has taken more to feed less. Disbelief can spread like yeast. Jesus says to “be careful.”

So how do we “beware” of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod? Following Dr. Oz’s advice about yeast might actually help us be careful and beware.

  • Cut out yeast. When you spend more time around unbelief than you do environments of belief you may find the yeast spreading. When you see the yeast of unfaith spreading in you get away from it immediately.
  • Then use probiotics to build up good bacteria, or faith. Faith fights unfaith. The early church gives us a prescription for probiotics: spend time receiving teaching, share, break bread and pray with others, meet together, and share meals. They praised God and were liked by all the people. Time with places where faith exists builds up faith.
  • And third, combat the yeast directly. Remembrance combats the yeast of unfaith. Throughout the Bible God has always had his people do things to remember: sing, set up stones, pray, take the bread and cup. We need to remember because we are prone to forget. Remembrance combats yeast directly. Remembrance reminds us of who Jesus is and what he has done.

When that happens the bad yeast will take a backseat to the good. Your spiritual health will improve. Your faith will grow and spread.

And bread will have never tasted so good.

Next Time You Find Yourself in a Storm

April 18, 2016. 18 inches of rain. Early morning Monday. Flooded bayous and creeks. I knew there was trouble when I saw a neighbor building a large boat.

Simon / Pixabay

Our iPhones sounded alarms two or three times in the night about floods. We don’t live in a flood plain so I’d say a prayer for others and fall back asleep. About 4:30 a.m. our son came into our room with a flashlight. “Hey, it’s flooding,” he said. “I know that. Nothing we can do about it,” I said. “No Dad, it’s flooding in our house,” he said. I can’t repeat what I said next.

The sound of wet steps is not the best sound to awaken to. We gathered to make a quick game plan. We had to save as much of our house and belongings as we could.

Others across Houston needed saving too. Many were waking up to situations worse than ours. Water rising higher inside their houses and apartments. Cars flooded on the street. And then there were those driving into deep water that needed rescue.

Maybe it wasn’t a storm. But you’ve needed to be saved too, haven’t you? Bills piling up left you drowning under a weight you couldn’t bear. Relationship issues blew you off course. Life demands made you feel as if you were sinking fast. You needed something or someone to save you.

Peter did. You’ve heard the story. He and his friends are on the Sea of Galilee. A storm brews. Jesus comes walking towards them on the Sea. They think he’s a ghost. Peter begins walking on the water towards Jesus. He sees the wind and gets afraid. And he begins to sink.

That’s when he does the next right thing. He cries out to Jesus, “Save me!”

With two thousand years of reflection we wonder how the disciples did not know it was Jesus. But it takes eyes of faith to recognize when Jesus is present.  Especially when you are in the middle of a storm. They couldn’t recognize Jesus but Jesus recognizes them. And Jesus knows the storm they are in. He says literally: “Take courage. I am. Fear not.”

“I am” is the name God gave of himself to Moses at the burning bush. The fulcrum between balancing courage and fear in a storm is “I am.” We expect to hear “I am” at burning bushes or Sinai summits. But often we do not expect to see him near in the storm.

There is power in “I am.” I saw a book recently with the title “The Power of I Am” and thought, “That’s a great book to write. Pointing people to the power of God!” But when I skimmed it I found it was only about saying positive statements about ourselves: “I am strong. I am smart. I am handsome.” I thought, “I say those things anyway. I don’t need this book.”

And then I thought: “I need to write a response to this book and call it ‘The Real Power of I Am.” “I Am” is powerful. But the power is located in the God of the Universe. “I Am” is his name. He doesn’t have to add anything after “I Am” to convince himself he’s better than he feels.  We may have to try tricks of positive thinking but not God. And when you are sinking and need to be saved you realize quickly that saying “I am strong” or “I am confident” or “I am a fish” won’t help you much.

But Jesus can. His name—Jesus—means “Yahweh is salvation.” The angel told Joseph to name the child “Jesus” because “he will save his people from their sins.”

And he is ready to save you. You need only do as Peter did. Cry out to Jesus, “Save me!” Take his hand. He’ll get into the boat with you too. And then the winds will cease.

I did. And he saved me. After three days of shop vac’ing, dehumidifying, baseboard pulling, and furniture stacking I was sinking too. I needed a moment alone so I offered to pull the baseboards in the bathrooms. I closed the door so my other family members would pause before they opened it, wondering if I was relieving the wall of its baseboard or relieving something else.

It was a moment I could have given up. In our flooded house I was tempted to drown in self-pity. But Jesus came in that storm. Here’s what he showed me:

  • I was blessed to even have a house that could flood.
  • I had a stellar wife whose vocabulary does not include the words “give up.”
  • We had two grown sons at the house to pitch in and help.
  • We had church family who came by, offered help, and encouraged.
  • We had neighbors who loaned fans and shop vacs to aid in the cleanup.
  • We had insurance agents who dropped by to give advice and a smile.
  • We had a home remodeling friend who assessed the damage, told us we’d done a great job, and would help us put things back together.

I was “saved” from a moment of self-pity. And I’ve been saved in so many other ways too. I’ve been saved, but only by Jesus.

You can be too. Next time you face a storm, face Jesus.

Question: What storm are you facing now? How can you face Jesus in the storm?