I had the privilege of writing a series of creative explorations of scripture this year involving the idea of "sifting." These are times where suffering (often caused by our own actions) brings opportunity for growth and change. The idea was to explore how biblical leaders would have been shaped by scenes of sifting - and to write these in the first person.
My gut reaction was "nope." But as I considered the project, it came to life in my heart.
I am a purist and I think we add to Scripture not at all with our cleverness and modern point of view... in fact our additions in that vein are often simple vanity and based on the notion that we are smarter and better than previous cultures, and I'm not convinced that is actually true.
The heart of this was to put on the shoes of Elijah and Abraham and Esther and walk with them a bit... personally, viscerally and allowing the stories they share with us to become understood from a human point of view. Not expanding or elaborating scripture... but meditating on it deeply and sharing that meditation through expression.
It was a fascinating exercise that, frankly, went better than anyone expected it to (including me)... so we published it in an ebook. It's free - go download it now - I'll wait.
Thanks! Because we have the coolest blog of any church meeting in the State Theatre, I'm going to post a story a week, for your reading pleasure. If you get half as much from these reading them as I did from writing them, we'll be in good shape... first up is Peter.
Called to Follow
Mark was working on his account of Jesus' life again and asking me for stories of the time we spent with Jesus. He asked me why it was so easy for us to leave everything and follow Him.
I smiled. It wasn't easy at all. It took me a long time to be ready for that step. I had met Jesus a year before the night He called us. My fishing business was doing well. Even though I was aching for a change, that final decision to sacrifice it all was the hardest thing I'd done to that point.
Success is difficult to set aside. I had worked hard to build a life, but was increasingly finding that my life and investment lacked something important. It was becoming a question of significance and legacy. I didn't want my gravestone to read, "He sold a lot of salted fish." Even so, it was comfortable and I knew what to expect. I was longing for the risk I was afraid to say, "yes" to. Somehow He knew my heart. I was about to be faced with the biggest choice of my life, with no guarantee that I wasn't making a huge mistake.
I drifted into memory and heard my voice recount the story to Mark of the days we became His disciples ...
It was going to be a long night.
As the waves lifted and fell in gentle rhythm, my hands again found their resting place. The wood was worn smooth from the sheer volume of times I had touched the railing in this exact spot. I loved this time of night, even when the fish weren't moving. It was beautiful stillness. It was peace.
That was on the outside. Inside, I was boiling, desperately looking for things to change. Somehow I knew that a new chapter was beginning, but it was frustrating to not know my next step. It was a discontent that had no anchor, no lines mooring it to anything I could point to as real.
Calling out commands to stop, our boat slowed and I motioned for our team to throw the net. Their calloused hands, full of grace and synchronicity threw out the lines over the darkness into the sea. As it slowly fell into the deep in practiced silence, my thoughts descended too, sinking into darkness where I couldn't see.
There was nothing in my life that merited this level of unease, but I was surrounded by it nonetheless.
Is this all there is?
I had success in business, owning one of the largest fishing operations in Galilee. I spoke and dreamed and traded with partners who respected me. I ate and lived with a good family, and I had known love. Somehow I was still adrift. My life was worn smooth from the touch of years, bringing no comfort.
I wasn't in focus. Something just had to change.
We waited. So much of fishing is the waiting. The men spoke of their children in quiet tones and, like all stories of children, the exploits were completely ordinary, except to the fathers who loved them. The night stretched on as Andrew told me stories of the Baptist and the time he had spent with him these last few months.
We pulled the net for the first catch of the evening, and I murmured under my breath when it was empty. Not a single fish! That happens, but it's been years since I've seen an empty net return. I looked to the east and tried to pierce the darkness by the sheer force of my will. It didn't feel like a storm was coming.
My oldest team member barked a laugh at the dismay of the younger men and offered to let them sit and rest while he continued to work for a living. Shame isn't always a good motivator, but this time it worked pretty well. Again I watched the practiced motions of a thousand throws, on a thousand nights, their legs and arms coiling and releasing in the carefree motion of a thousand memories, just like this one. The net flew, extended and sank for the second time.
Andrew was telling me again about the Carpenter and the amazing things God was doing. I'd met Jesus about a year before, and I'd heard him speak. Andrew was right. There was something different about him. He spoke with a power and a love for God I'd never seen, and the stories about miracles were growing. John the Baptist was saying that he was the One. It would be perfect if Messiah came and sent the armies back to Rome. Israel was long overdue for her coming King. I would love to be a part of that revolution. That idea was exciting and scary all at the same time. I had a lot to lose.
We pulled the nets and caught a boat full of nothing. It was time to move. We set for our second location, and I could see that the men were becoming discouraged.
Glide. Gather. Throw. Sink. Wait.
Still no fish.
The night was an empty boat, and we were getting weary. I signaled the other crew to start for shore and joked with my men as we turned to the north. One of them mentioned in passing that since the fish were smarter than we were, it was just a matter of time before they were on to us.
The earth held its breath as the sky lightened from amber to the brilliant crimson of a new day. We hit the shore, secured the boat and started unloading. Andrew cut the men loose for breakfast, sleep and time with their families. We had one more night before the Sabbath, and I set a time for us to meet again before they doggedly walked away. I told Andrew to go as well, but he just gave me that look brothers give each other before pulling a section of the first net and starting to scrape it clean.
We were still cleaning the nets when the crowd started to gather. People were buzzing about him— Have you seen him? Is he really on his way? I heard he healed a blind man and now he can see ... .Their whispered voices slowly gained strength and echoed out over the water. I didn't see him approach, but suddenly he was there, drawing Andrew into a warm embrace. I stood and tried to wash my hands clean before greeting him, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Simon, can I use your boat to teach from?" he asked. I glanced at Andrew, who was grinning from ear to ear and of course I said yes. It was a good idea. Sound carries over water, and as the hundreds of people who had gathered at the beach sat, Jesus began to speak.
I was exhausted, irritable and resentful of the extra time being taken. It was the worst day my business had experienced in months. I hadn't eaten, slept or bathed in far too long.
But with the Teacher in my boat, speaking God's life and love to everyone around, my heart was energized. In some small way I felt like I was a part of something significant, a partner in ministry, at least for a few moments. It felt good. I felt alive in a way I hadn't felt in years.
When he finished and dismissed the crowd, I found myself wanting him to stay but was afraid to ask if he wanted to eat with us. I wanted to impress him, to make myself important in his eyes. I wanted to let him know that I was the owner of this small fleet of ships and that our salted fish kept people fed from here to Nazareth and sometimes all the way to Egypt. As I started to take him back to shore with unspoken rehearsed words on my lips, he nodded to the south and said, "Put out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch."
My thoughts came quickly, almost instantaneously and were, in no particular order:
- The fish aren't running this time of day.
- I'm tired.
- We just cleaned the nets; I don't want to scrape them again for nothing.
But there was something about the way he said it and my heart was beating faster. In spite of every reason and objection I immediately replied, "We've been at this all night and haven't caught anything, but at your word, we'll cast our net again." In the corner of my eye, Andrew was nodding in approval. It seemed that whatever was happening, he felt it too.
Our weary nets spread and splashed, froze, then slowly dropped and I experienced a moment of double vision. Part of me said, "This is pointless," but another part, a deeper part, said, "Watch this!" I glanced at Andrew as the line jumped out of my hands, and I had to scramble to keep from getting pulled in. The boat lurched and dipped crazily toward the sea. Our boat was being pulled toward the net.
That's not possible.
The net was already filling. I could see the schools of fish flooding into it, just under the boat and they kept coming. When we tried to pull the catch into the boat, the net started to tear so we eased the lines back into the water to keep from losing the fish.
I called to the shore for help and they immediately launched out to help us. We pulled our second boat alongside with practiced motions to capture and load the catch. There were so many fish, both boats swamped and we made our way carefully to the shore with a small fortune. Andrew was giving me his best, "I told you so" brotherly glance. We had more than 100 years of experience between us, and none of us had ever seen the like.
The weight of the morning continued to build until we got the boats upon the shore and I collapsed. The combination of the night's work and frustration, the path of my life and inner turmoil, the amazing words of our Teacher and the miracle we had just witnessed was too much for me to bear. This wasn't a story for other people, some rumor of God moving and doing amazing things far away. I was horribly present. God was moving nature itself to speak to me, and I suddenly felt very small.
In the very gaze of heaven I fell to my knees. "Lord, go and leave me here, I'm full of sin and not worthy to be in your presence."
His hand on my head and his touch raising me to my feet communicated kindness and purpose. Speaking to me, to my brother, to my partners and friends, he called us to service. "Don't be afraid." And somehow we felt peace. "From now on, you'll catch men." And we knew that it was true.
We looked at the catch, at our ravaged nets, at our boats overflowing with fortune ... looking at the success we had worked so hard for, it was hard to walk away. But that's exactly what we did, to follow Him.
When the chance comes to leave everything else for what God calls you to do, do it—without hesitation. You'll sacrifice more than you ever imagined. You'll lose everything. You'll question that decision a thousand times, but hang on with both hands to the day that He called you.
It's worth it.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Peter answered Him and said, "We have left everything to follow you!" (Matthew 19:25-27).
Good morning Surgeons! Here are announcements for June 24, 2012...
-- We are wrapping up our series "Casting Call". Message is entitled Putting It All Together.
-- Special song today is Safe And Sound by Taylor Swift--from the movie, The Hunger Games
-- We operate pretty informally here. so, dress casually, grab some coffee and snack and enjoy the service!
-- Finally, we love each... and if you come today, it's not an accident that you're here. Take a minute to say hi to someone around you!!
-- Everyone should receive a copy of our Ministry Teams flyer this morning. These show how we're organized here at The Surge. If you've been coming and are looking to get involved, these are the teams. If you've been coming and not looking to get involved, we encourage you to change your thinking. We'd love to see everyone plugged in at least one of these teams. Great way to get connected: great way to get to know other people; great way to use your gifts and talents to help build up the church. We talked about that last week, as you know. Just put down your interest on the connection card, stick it in the offering boxes at the back and we'll be in touch to get you plugged in.
-- Speaking of offering boxes, we don't take up an offering during the service, but boxes are at the back by each door. We are debt free and big believers in staying that way. We do need to pay the bills however, so we encourage you all to take seriously the invite to give generously. If you are going to be away a bunch this summer, might we suggest that you consider having your bank just draft a check every month or week--however you do it, so you don't fall behind. You can also give online--just go to the website and click on giving.
-- You want to be here next week when we commission Selma Nunes as our Youth and Outreach Pastor. Selma wants to take any teens that are here after the service to a local Starbucks for free frappes. And then at 4:00 p.m. next Sunday, we'll be having a church-wide cookout at Paul and Joy Gardiner's house in Herndon so you can meet and hear from Selma about her vision for our teens. You all have the announcement in your email, so just respond to that note and let us know if you are coming. We'll provide the roast beast; you all just bring a side dish to share.
-- Next week, we will be teaching out the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, starting our message series call
-- Finally, a reminder about Selma Nunes commissioning next Sunday morning and the picnic at 4:00 p.m. next Sunday afternoon. Please plan to come, especially if you are new to the Surge. A great way to meet everyone!!
Good morning Surgeons,
Here are our announcements for today...
- Happy Father's Day!
- Continuing our Casting Call series, today is on Wholly Unique
- Upcoming special by Fleetwood Mac, Go Your Own Way
- We had a lovely memorial service for Lew Price, our hearts and prayers are with Sue and her family
- We had a wonderful SAW concert with Cindi Slaughter last night
- Our offering boxes are hand crafted, made by the finest artisans and will treat your generous gifts with care and the love that you've come to expect from them, they are waiting for you in the back of the room
- Finishing up our Casting Call series next week, the sermon is on Putting it All Together
- Enjoy this Father's Day... and we'll see you soon!
Good Morning Surgeons!
Here are a few announcements for June 10, 2012...
- We are continuing our Casting Call series, this week is on Multiplication. So if you're wondering how a church service turns into a movement of God's working, stay tuned!
- Wonderful SAW event yesterday with about 100 local singer / songwriters in the area surging to the Barn at the corner of Kirby and Westmoreland. They had workshops, open mics, concerts, giveaways a dinner, more open mics and a good time was had by all.
- Continuing our concert series, the third Saturday, this next one is a don't miss event. Cindi Slaughter, favorite of the Surge and the Big Cheese will be performing, starting at 7pm. It's free, coffee and dessert will be served. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss about 2 and 1/2 hours goodbye!
- We have wonderful offering boxes in the back, made with the finest wood available, brazilian notty pine if I'm not mistaken... the properties of the wood are guaranteed to turn your generosity into an effective way to invest in things that last forever.
- You can also give online, just hit the website and click on the "giving" tab - it's easy and the internet has taught us that it's fun to click on things.
- Next week we're continuing up our Casting Call series with a message on Wholly Unique... so Dwaine has been up all night finding the most random slides ever seen in a presentation.
That's it! Peace to you and the folks around you!
A university department of Atmospheric Science for several years employed me as a student to program computers for climate analysis. Dr. Kung presented to me an old computer program to adapt to a new kind of analysis. I noticed that the old program set the value of the gravitational constant g as 9.8 m/s². My physics textbook gave g as 9.80665. After checking other sources, I changed g to the physics book value that had more digits of precision.
My program crunched data overnight and produced dozens of pages of numbers and pretty contour plots. Dr. Kung smiled at the results. Then he frowned. He flipped back and forth through the pages, murmuring, “This is not what I expected.”
A week later he summoned me to his office. “Where did this ‘g’ come from?” he demanded. I explained.
He sighed. “Gregory, these measurements come from a mile above the earth’s surface. Up there the earth’s gravity is a little bit weaker than it is down here.” Then he rubbed it in: “By turning up gravity, you have sucked all the clouds out of the sky!”
OK. Have I established that I am sometimes wrong about verifiable facts of physics? That granted, is it surprising that I misjudge more complex phenomena, like people? Moreover, few situations require judgments. So, as I previously explained, I resolved to avoid judging people until required.
Then I found in myself two more forms of premature judgment.
First, I unnecessarily judge myself. Of course, self-understanding is highly desirable. Not for radishes or gravel, but for humans, a complete lack of self-examination leads to disaster. But does continual self-examination really help? Many of my self-evaluations have been way off. Even if my evaluations were correct for some other place and time, they often are wrong for the here and now! I have mammoth biases about myself. The smart thing to do is defer self-judgment. Somebody concurs:
“I do not care if I am judged by you or by any human court.
I do not even judge myself. I know of no wrong I have done,
but this does not make me right before the Lord.
The Lord is the One who judges me.
So do not judge before the right time; wait until the Lord comes.”
Yet another form of premature judgment is judging God. How do I judge God? I necessarily misunderstand God in many ways. Judging God usually takes this form: I decide that I deserve better than what I have.
One step that helps me is to consider an alternate perspective.
For example, people ask: Why is there suffering?
If this is an academic question, not from someone who in pain, then there exists a counter-question:
Why is there pleasure? Why should we deserve times of happiness, beauty, contentment, or anything pleasant?
Put that way, I realized I was beating on God from a mighty small frame of reference. I'm not the first.
Then the Lord answered Job from the storm. He said:
"Who is this that makes my purpose unclear
by saying things that are not true?
Be strong like a man!
I will ask you questions,
and you must answer me.
Where were you when I made the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off how big it should be? Surely you know!
Who stretched a ruler across it?
What were the earth's foundations set on,
or who put its cornerstone in place
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted with joy?"
Have I made mistaken evaluations of the physical world? Check. Have I made mistaken judgments of other people, of myself, and of God? Check, check, check, to the 9.8th power.
A fruitful strategy to lose a bad habit is to displace it with a good habit. The scriptures urge, “let him who stole, steal no more, but rather let him give”. Here's how I somewhat displaced the bad habit of premature judgment.
Good morning Surgeons!
We are continuing our series on Casting Call, about our identity as a church, this week is about Service
Our special music is "Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan
There will be a SAW Event on June 9th, from 1pm to 11pm, their annual community day, so if you're a songwriter, or know a songwriter, there are workshops, a dinner, and lots of fun musical activity...
Next SAW concert is June 16th, with Cindi Slaughter and the Big Cheese.
If you're inspired to do something amazing related to an idea for service, come talk to us! Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.