Don’t Miss the Dolphins

Paddleboarding-in-Sarasota-County_MilesArticleOptRecently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.

I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.

Their responses:

Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”

Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”

They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?

  • Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
  • Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
  • Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
  • Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
  • Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
  • Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.

When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.

Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.

Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.

Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.

Dolphins JumpingHonestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.

When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.

Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.

Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?

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Sheep Bite-And the Shepherd’s Calling

Open Bible 1

It was a great day at church. Good worship. A strong word from prospective (CP) church planting partners. Then an afternoon training and great time in D-Groups reviewing and growing in understanding the principle of God’s unrelenting pursuit of rebellious sinners (me).

After this glorious but long day…I was clearing out email…and there it was. An unsolicited epistle, a message from someone not connected to the fellowship…sharing how I had been an offense to them a couple of years ago. Sheep Bite.

No longer are my thoughts on the glorious day I had just experienced. I’m now labored over the complaints, the appropriate response, my own need to justify and respond line by ever-loving line. Sheep bite…and they’re not even my sheep.

Sometimes sheep bite because as a “shepherd,” you get close to a nerve. I once had a dog that had a leg that had been surgically repaired. It was tender. If I touched it too hard or got too close to the bad nerves, she’d turn to bite. It wasn’t that my dog was mean or aggressive. It was that the spot was tender. That’s totally different than if a dog (or in this case, a sheep) runs up to ambush you. The former demands understanding. The second “deserves” a defensive posture. People are sheep. Sometimes sheep bite…not always, but sometimes. It hurts. It is not good. We may want (and can even justify) a retaliatory response. We may start to devise a new recipe for “mutton.” Then it hits me…the reminder from the Lord…Those are His sheep that I am considering barbequeing! I’d never want to take out my Lord’s sheep, even those that bite me…because they are His.

The Lord corrected me. He reminded me that I am a shepherd and He owns the flock. I cannot destroy a sheep for biting me since I do not own the sheep. Well who will take care of this rogue, biting sheep assaulting the unsuspecting shepherd? Obviously not me, and here are three reasons why:

  • One, I was a biting sheep and the Lord pursued me relentlessly and saved me while in active rebellion against Him. He pursued me!
  • Two, God’s Word forbids it. “Do not let kindness (loyalty/loyal love) and truth (faithfulness) leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Prov 3:3). I am not responsible for driveby emails, but I am responsible for maintaining my “loyal love” for the SAVIOR that relentlessly pursued me. He can deal with His own sheep. My allegiance and response is to Him.
  • Three, I need not be concerned with whether my rights have been violated or if my heart needs to be justified in the matter. I have no rights! I was relentlessly pursued by a great Savior that I bit all the time (and unfortunately still do…to my shame)! He is in the business of rescuing biting sheep! If He rescues another biter…and they bite me…it is up to Him to deal with that. The Lord will be my confidence and He alone can insure that I not be overtaken.” (Prov 3:25-26).

“Pastor (you might ask), aren’t you concerned that someone may read this and become more concerned with what was said or who said what?”

Actually, I was concerned about that. I’ve taken a number of steps to try to keep the details to a minimum so I could push the focus to what God is teaching me…so that, maybe, I can encourage/instruct others with the teaching (Psalm 51:13). What I KNOW to be true…”It’s Monday” and there are a number of shepherds being bitten today. Some, because they got too close to a nerve. Some, because they were ambushed. Before reacting with the emotion that was driving me, take your thoughts captive. Do so by focusing on the relentless pursuit of God’s love for you. Then tell the Great Shepherd. He has your back. He knows what it is to be bitten. He’s endured your bites and mine for years.

God’s Will and God’s Word

open-bible 2

As a “Jesus” guy and a pastor, I love when people seek to honor God. I love when people pray about God’s will in a matter and embrace it. I love when people do not find the answer to their questions regarding His will easily…when they have to “wrestle” with it. (It builds character and confidence in our faith in God).

Sometimes though, because of our sin nature, we wrestle with “settled” matters. People will say to me, “I am praying about whether God wants me to share Jesus with my neighbor, go on a mission trip, or start tithing, etc. Friend…these are clearly declared in Scripture. There is no ambiguity to them. God speaks clearly from the pages of Scripture and the answer is as plain as it sounds. “[YOU] Go, and make disciples of all nations…,  Matthew 28:18-20 (which necessarily includes your neighbor unless he is an alien from a galaxy far, far away).

Sometimes, these prayers for God’s will reveal themselves to be more self-serving than we make them seem. “I am praying pastor about getting a divorce.” [Insert contemplative “Hmmm” here]. “I am praying about having sex with my boyfriend.” “I am praying about whether I should forgive someone who hurt me.”

In these cases, I am not certain that what we are waiting on is God’s “revelation” to us as much as we are seeking to get God to affirm our ungodly heart’s desires. I WANT a divorce SO I am trying to find something that tells me it is ok or at least not a damning choice. I don’t want to forgive, so I am reading all of the imprecatory Psalms to find justification for not forgiving.

A couple of things I have learned in wrestling with God:

  • We do not change God’s mind. God did not reveal His perfect will for us to “improve it” with our imperfect suggestions.
  • We can always find one person to agree with us. Honestly, just because you found another “sin nature person” who once had your bad idea and wrote about how he thought it was ok…won’t help you before the throne of God when you plead your case.
  • God’s will is not always easy. It WARS against our self-deterministic will. We want to please us…and God created us for His pleasure. These two truths are often in CONFLICT.
  • God’s will is better than ours. We see a situation with limited clarity. God sees perfectly. We are pursuing a limited objective. God is working the affairs of an eternal Kingdom. And He is GOOD.
  • When we trust God’s will, He fights for us. An old leadership principle is that if you want to get folks to give their heart toward a goal, make sure it is their goal. (Now I am not suggesting a form of manipulation aimed at God; however, I am saying that if we are on His agenda, He brings the arsenal of heaven to bear on bringing His will to pass).

Where, pastor, do I find God’s will? Simply stated…it is a journey of discovery but it should ALWAYS begin in His Word and be bathed in much prayer and earnest seeking. God’s will is never contrary to God’s Word.