God sightings, Living in Faith, Scripture verses

A little faith can go a long way

The Scripture passage that our pastor preached on this week was one many of us have heard since childhood: the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water to meet Him (Matthew 14:22-33).

I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve read this story, heard this story, taught this story in Sunday school class or at Vacation Bible School. But our pastor shared a perspective on it that I’d never considered.

For background: This story happens early in the morning following the day when Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves of bread and two fish (14:13-21). After Jesus dismissed the crowds, He went up onto the mountain to pray and the disciples got in their boats to spend the night fishing.

Rough weather came up during the night, but the disciples weren’t worried. After all, they had been fishermen all their lives and knew when rain was worth worrying about. What did bother them in the early morning hours was when they looked up and thought they saw a ghost on the water, walking toward them. Here’s what happens next (Matthew 14:27-33):

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

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?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Our pastor said she grew up thinking that Jesus was fussing at Peter when He asked, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I’ll admit that’s what I’ve thought too – that Jesus was reprimanding Peter. After all, Peter had been following Jesus for a while now and should be seeing his faith grow, not shrink.

Here was the twist in her sermon. At some point along the way, a teenager shared a different way of looking at this with our pastor. The teen said she didn’t think Jesus was full-fledged “yelling” at Peter like her mom sometimes did. Instead, the teen said she wondered if the feeling behind Jesus’ words was more akin to her mom being exasperated and saying, “I know you know this. What were you thinking?”

I think that’s an interesting way to look at it. As our pastor said, what if Jesus wasn’t asking, “Peter, how can you have so little faith that you don’t believe?” What if, instead, Jesus was saying, “Peter, I know you already have a little faith. And that’s all you need to believe.”

Wow. That struck me as something to really mull over this week.

Jesus didn’t expect Peter to know everything or do everything on his own. Jesus wanted Peter to remember what he already knew and let that knowledge feed his faith. Then, having that faith would give Peter the courage to step out and follow Jesus with confidence.

Here’s the other thing to remember: Jesus didn’t expect Peter to have giant-like faith. He just needed to have enough faith to step forward and let God take it from there.

I don’t need to have giant-like faith either (though I’m sure God would be pleased if I did and some days I really feel like I need more). I just need a little – enough to trust God and step out of whatever boat I’m stuck in like Peter stepped out toward Jesus. That one step of faith might be what God wants to see before the next things He has for me fall into place.

As our pastor said, “Even if your faith is little, it is still enough for what God has planned for you.”

Because God is really good at taking the smallest things and turning them into something amazing for Him. Even if it’s such a small bit of faith that I almost forget I have it myself.

God sightings, Living in Faith

What can I give God during Advent?

red candle with gold sparkle light backgroundThis is the first week of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas when we prepare to celebrate God’s gift to us in Jesus and prepare ourselves to receive that gift. It can also be a good time for us to think about what we can give God in return – not because we’re trying to win God’s approval or buy our way into heaven (we know that’s not how it works), but because we’re hopefully trying to follow God and be a little more like Jesus every day.

Looking at it from that perspective, here are six real-world gifts we can consider giving to God this Christmas.

A = Attention

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV)

Somewhere in the middle of all the shopping, wrapping, cooking and running around, God wants us to still focus our attention on Him. He’s a jealous God and wants our attention – just like we want the attention of our own families and friends.

D = Dollars

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37: 21 ESV)

God wants us to take some of our money and things, and use them to help other people. There are always opportunities for us to give, but sometimes we tend to think about them the most at Christmas. Whether it’s big or small, it’s still making a difference in someone’s life.

V = Very full calendars

sunriseThis day belongs to the Lord! Let’s celebrate and be glad today. (Psalm 118:24 CEV)

It can be hard to focus on God or on the reason for the season when our calendars are bursting at the seams. I think this is a challenge for many of us – I know it is for me. We might not be pulled in quite as many directions this year because of COVID, but in a “normal” year we’re dealing with school activities, work parties, family get-togethers, shopping, cooking, decorating … and on and on and on.

It’s got to stop somewhere, or we’ll miss Christmas itself. That’s easier said than done and I must say it’s nice to have things looking like they’ll be a little slower than usual this year.

E = Energy (or lack thereof!)

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:31 ESV)

Advent should be one of the times when we feel closest to God and have the most appreciation for the gift He gave us in Jesus. But some years I find that it can turn out to be one of my most distant times from Him because I’m so busy with – or tired from – other things that my devotional time can get lost in the shuffle. I need to be more intentional than ever about carving out quiet time or I’ll soon be running on empty.

young girl with Christmas lightsN = New eyes and ears

I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15 HCSB)

Jesus told His disciples that people needed to come to Him as a child, with open minds and hearts. I think the same is true for us during Advent and Christmas – we need to get back in touch with the excitement and the miracle of it all.

It’s like when we went to Disneyworld years ago and our daughter (who was almost 4) saw Cinderella. I would give anything to have a picture of her face when that carriage stopped right in front of us during the parade and Cinderella blew a kiss. Our daughter was so excited – she was completely beside herself because she was convinced that the kiss was for her. It was probably the biggest highlight of her life at that point, just like Christmas should be a highlight of every year for us.

No, I’m not trying to put seeing Cinderella in the same category as Jesus being born, but you get my point. Seeing her so happy made the rest of us happy, too. Getting back to that childlike excitement at Christmas can help us enjoy it in a new way, too.

T = Thanks

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 NIV)

We were taught to thank people for the gifts they gave us, even if the gift was something we already had or didn’t really want. As cheesy as it might sound, Jesus is the best gift we’ve ever been given. There would be no need for Christmas if Jesus hadn’t been born, so the least we can do is thank God for sending Him to us.

But our thanks don’t need to end when we pack away the lights and decorations. These things I’ve highlighted (which spell Advent, by the way – I do love an acrostic) are ways we can give to God all year, not just when the calendar turns to December.

Do I do very well with it myself? Some days yes, many days no. But the beautiful thing is that just like Jesus is God’s gift to us all year long, every day is a new chance for us to give our own gifts to Him.

Let’s be intentional about finding ways to do that during Advent and beyond. I’d love to know how you’ll try to do that.

God sightings, Living in Faith, Thankful Thursday

Thankful Thursday: 3 Life Lessons Daddy Taught Me

I’m so thankful to both my parents for all the things they’ve taught me over the years – more things than I could ever list. The older I get – and the older my kids get – the more I appreciate those life lessons and the memories that go with some of them. Since yesterday was my dad’s birthday, today I’m going to share a few important things he’s taught me through some favorite memories.

thankful Daddy lessonsMemory 1: We went camping – a lot! – when my sister and I were growing up. Sometimes we went with a group of friends, but a lot of times we’d go by ourselves. One of my favorite spots was Indian Springs State Park because it had the biggest swing set I’d ever been on. I LOVED to swing – and Daddy was always ready to push me. He would get me going so high that he’d have to jump to grab the seat and push me again. I would laugh, he would laugh, and at some point Mama would start telling us that he was pushing me too high. I would yell, “Higher, Daddy!” and he’d keep me going as high as he possibly could.

The lesson from Daddy: Going high might be scary, but it might also be the best thing you’ve ever done. But you’ll never know until you have someone there to help push you.

Memory 2: Daddy is a man of few words. I think he’s always been that way, but living for years in a house full of word-loving women didn’t give him much chance to live differently. But, just because he wasn’t always in the middle of the conversation didn’t mean that he wasn’t listening or that he didn’t have his own opinion. Believe me, when he did speak up we all listened! And learned.

The lesson from Daddy: Open your mouth when you need to, not just because you can. I’ll be the first to admit I’m still working on this, but like to hope that I’m better than I used to be about listening instead of automatically jumping into the conversation.

BiblesMemory 3: My parents are Christians and they raised us in a Christian home, which included being involved in multiple things at church. During the rest of the week they both live their faith in quiet, everyday ways. All my growing up years, Daddy got up much earlier for work than the rest of us did for school. I’ll never forget one morning when I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. I padded down the dark hall and glanced through the den into the kitchen. Daddy sat at the table with his steaming mug of black coffee, reading his Bible. I’d never known that he read his Bible or had any kind of devotional time before going to work. I’d never thought about it, actually. But that image of him reading in the semi-darkness struck me in a special way and has stayed with me ever since.

The lesson from Daddy: No matter how early your day starts, no matter what time that alarm goes off, there can be a few minutes for God. And, faith should be a built-in part of your day and who you are, whether other people see it in obvious ways or not.

Of course, there are lots of other lessons I’ve learned from Daddy (and Mama, too). These three are resonating with me especially much these days, so that’s why I shared them. I hope my kids will someday realize that I’ve set a good example and taught them some valuable lessons, too.

Your turn: What’s a lesson you learned from a parent or other adult while growing up that has a favorite memory or still resonates with you?

God sightings, Scripture Saturday, Scripture verses

Scripture Saturday: 1 John 4:19

Love is in the air this weekend, but we all know where the first and best love originated. Happy Valentine’s Day!

1 John 4 19