A Study In Contrasts (Or, Watch the Giants Fall)

A study in contrasts.

First, Goliath:
9-feet, 10-inches tall.
A warrior since his youth.
Armed with a javelin hanging down his back that was the size of the crossbeam of a weaver’s loom and had a 12-pound iron tip, plus a sword strapped to his side and an armor bearer going before him.
Protected by 100-pounds of metal plated armor, a brass helmet and shin guards.
With a full-body shield that was 8 ½ feet tall.

And then there was David:
Too young to go to battle.
Too young to shave.
Considered only good enough to watch sheep.
An errand boy, bringing his brothers provisions.
Handsome, but oh, so young.
Mocked by his older brothers.
Doubted by the King.
Armed with a shepherd’s staff and a sling shot, plus five smooth stones.

King Saul tried to save David from himself.

First, he tried to talk him out of the battle.
“You can’t do this! You’re too young and inexperienced. You’re no match for Goliath.”
But David told him about the lions and the bears that attacked his sheep.
They stole lambs – but David pursued them and rescued the lambs.

King Saul tried to protect him from himself.

“At least take my armor and use it. At least it’s something!”
But a grown man’s armor didn’t fit David.
And he wasn’t used to it.
Couldn’t even walk in it.
So he said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

And so he went out to face Goliath.
Two armies on separate hills, watching this conflict happen in the valley below.
One army fighting in the name of their Philistine gods.
And the other, thus far, fighting in the name of King Saul.

But David did not fight for his country.
Or for his family.
He did not fight for his reputation or for his own glory.
He fought that giant because Goliath was speaking ill against the God of Heaven.
Defying the God of Gods.
Openly mocking Him.
So David fought that giant.
But he fought Goliath in the name of the Lord.

He ignored Goliath’s taunting.
As well as the doubts of those who were supposed to be on his side.
And he ran forward, doing all he knew to do.
Reaching into his pouch.
Pulling out a smooth stone and sliding it into place.
And letting it fly.

As David did all he knew to do, God did what only He could do.

For the sake of His name, He directed that rock to one of the only vulnerable spots on the heavily protected giant.
Down Goliath went, with a crash.
And David finished the job, using Goliath’s own weapon against him, cutting off his head with his own sword.

The Philistine army fled.
And the newly energized army of Israel raced after them, winning the war.

I don’t know about you, but I am facing a giant or two myself these days.
Things that feel impossible.
But things I know God is calling me to do.
Loving people in His name, even when they are at their most unlovely.
Serving where He has called me to serve, even when it is exhausting.
Using my gifts for His glory, even when they feel inadequate.
Even when I feel inadequate.

Giants of fear.
Giants of doubt.
Giants of rejection.
Giants of loneliness.
Giants of conflict.
Giants of confusion.

Giants that taunt me, defying the One True God, the Truth I know, the promises He’s made.
Giants that are, at best, daunting, and, at most, terrifying.

I know that I do not have it in me to defeat these giants.
They are stronger than me.
Better armed.
More experienced.

But I have something they do not have.
Or, rather, I have SOMEONE they do not have.
The God of Heaven is for me and not against me.
And, “if God is for me, who can stand against me?” (Romans 8)

I fight in the name of the Lord.
For His glory.
Not mine.
For the sake of His name.
Not mine.
Because He is worth it.
Not because I am fabulous. Or even fit for duty.

Like David, I will run forward, doing what I know to do, using the tools God has given me.
But I will run with confidence, ignoring the taunts.
Ignoring the doubts.
Even the ones that come from my own brain.

And I will let fly with all I have.
Knowing God will do the rest.
He’ll have to.
Because I can’t.

I bet you face giants today, too.
Yours might be tangible ones, like health challenges.
A struggling marriage.
Rebellious kids.
Financial troubles.
Or the loss of a job.

Or they might be far more intangible, like mine.

Regardless of your giants, can I encourage you to be like David?
(And while I encourage you, I’ll also remind me.)

Don’t depend on your own strength.
Don’t look to people for your help, your strength, your deliverance or your wisdom.
Look instead to the Word of God.
The one that is written down.
And the One that came down from heaven to show us how to fight the giants.
The One who defeated the greatest enemy we have at the cross and conquered our greatest fears with the empty tomb.
The One who promises to never leave you or forsake you.
Look to that Word.
And while you do that, yes, remember the battles you have won in the past.
But look ahead in the confidence that the God you serve is The ALL-Powerful One.
Give it all you’ve got – but do it in His name.
In His way.
For His glory.

And watch the giants fall.

A note from me to you…
If you like my writing, if it encourages you, then I need your help.
If this blessed you, please share it. Many thanks!


The Secret

The old man smiles at me and his eyes crinkle at the corners, the lines and wrinkles creasing in their well-worn paths.  The years of wind, waves, sun and smiling have etched his face like the wind etches the rocks where we live.

And it is appropriate that his face is etched with lines like stone, because he is a rock.  It is the meaning of his name – but it is also who he is.  Peter.  The Rock.

I have just returned from a hard, hard journey myself, one filled with tension and regret.  A while back, I made a choice that has dogged my steps ever since.  I was on a trip with Paul and got overwhelmed by fear.  The government was against us.  Most of the people didn’t really like what we had to say.  And we were daily in danger of being arrested, or worse, simply because we were talking about Jesus.  I got overwhelmed.  I got scared.  And I bailed.

But then came another opportunity.  A chance to prove myself again.  A chance to show them that I had grown.  My mentor and cousin, Barnabas, had asked Paul if I could join them again on their travels.  And Paul said, “No.”  They argued about it – in fact, they argued so much that we split up and went in two different directions.

That trip was hard.  In so many ways, it was hard.  Disappointment in myself.  Disappointment in Paul.  And still the same dangers.  Imprisonment.  Beatings.  Death.  But we made it back to Jerusalem and I have been trying to recover ever since.  I decided that I would like to spend some time with Peter.  After all, he had walked with Jesus.  He knew him personally.  I wanted to know what that was like.  So I asked Peter if I could interview him.

At first he laughed.  He said, “You want to interview me, a common fisherman? Go talk to James – he is Jesus’ brother after all!”  But I knew Peter was the conversation I needed.

So today we are sitting on the roof of his home in Jerusalem.  The breeze ruffles the olive groves nearby and takes a bit of the heat away.  We may be on a rooftop – but I can tell that Peter isn’t really there.  In his mind he is somewhere else. I share with him my battles, my fears – and the fact that I can’t seem to get past them.  And now I wait for his reply, wondering what he will say.

After a long silence, he smiles at me and says, “So you are afraid?”

I nod my head, not willing to look him in the eye.  After all, he is one of the main leaders of the fellowship of the followers of The Way.  People come to him for decisions.  For healing.  For wisdom.  I am in awe that he has agreed to spend time with me, a failure.

Peter says, “I know what it is to be afraid.  You must have heard the stories about what a coward I am at heart.”

I shake my head.  “Yes, I’ve heard the stories – but I have a hard time believing them.  I have a hard time believing that you were ever afraid!  Look at all you’ve done.  All the preaching.  All the teaching. All the leading.”

He gently says, “That’s only because I have learned the secret of dealing with fear.”

I am intrigued.  “Tell me more, please.”

“I know you have heard this story many times.  But let me tell you it from my point of view.  Maybe then you’ll understand.

It had been a very, very long day.  We had started that day with the Master receiving bad news.  His cousin, John, was dead.  Killed by King Herod.  The guys and I had not known what to say.  How do you comfort the Son of God?  We just looked at each other and shrugged, sad for him but really at a loss for what to do.

Jesus said he wanted to go spend some time with the Father and so we headed out to the hills.  We knew that if we stayed in the village, there would be nothing but people wanting healing or just wanting to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  So we all started hiking out into the hills.  We crested a hill and I glanced back.  Hundreds and hundreds of people had followed us out there!  Jesus, of course, put their needs before his own.  He spent the day healing people.  All day long, they came.  That evening he asked us to feed them dinner.  But that is a story for another day.”

Peter smiles again, a far off look in his eye as he relives that day on the hill.

“So, anyway, when we had finally sent all the people away at the end of the day, Jesus tells the 12 of us to get in a boat and cross the Galilee.  There was the usual grumbling from the land lubbers in the crowd but James, John, Andrew and I were fine with it.  Night was falling fast but we had often been out on the Galilee at night.  After all, that’s the best fishing!  James looked up at the sky, trying to read the weather.  It seemed clear to all of us, although we also knew from experience that the Galilee is fickle.  She can be calm one instant and treacherous the next.  But Jesus had given us instructions, so off we went.  As we rowed out we could see him starting to wearily climb further into the hills.

Everything was fine at first.  A few of the guys even settled in to sleep.  Us fishing guys took turns at the oars.  It was a beautiful evening!  But then it happened.  Out of nowhere, Miss Galilee changed her mind and suddenly we were in the middle of one of the worst storms I have ever seen!  Everyone was awake now and those who weren’t straining at the oars were using their hands and their coats to bail water.  My eyes locked with John’s at one point and I saw the fear I felt reflected there.  This was a bad one!

Suddenly one of the men gave a shout!  Really, it was more of choked scream.  We all turned to look at him and saw him pointing with a shaky finger.  There in the middle of the wind and waves, there was a gray, shrouded figure steadily coming towards us. The waves would hide it from view for a moment and then it would come into sight again, always a little closer.  It was a ghost!  We really thought we were done for then! We thought it was a spirit or even an angel coming to escort us to Paradise.  You should have heard the weeping and wailing then!

But I wasn’t screaming – I was staring. Hard.  And as I looked, I realized an amazing thing.  It was Jesus!  I started laughing and shouting.  James stared at me like I had gone mad but then I shook his arm and said, “It is the Lord!  And he’s walking on the water!”

I was filled with such joy, such awe, I can’t even begin to describe it, John Mark.  And then, all of a sudden, I knew.  I knew I wanted to walk on water, too.  I wanted to go to Jesus, to meet him.  Such a crazy compulsion came over me!  I called out to Jesus, “Lord, can I come to you?”  And he smiled that smile of his and said, “Come!”

I will never forget what happened next.  I put my hands on the side and the boat and swung my leg over, just like I had a thousand times before.  My eyes said I was stepping into water but my heart said it would be OK.  And it was!  That water was like walking on a smooth, hard-packed dirt road!  Most incredible thing I have felt in my life.  My eyes looked at Jesus and he was grinning from ear to ear.  We both laughed as I took a few steps towards him.  I could tell that the shouting had stopped, although it was hard to hear over the wind.

And that’s when it hit me.  The wind.  I could see the wind.  No – not it, actually – but what it was doing.  The immense waves.  The rushing, swirling wind.  And panic seized me.  What was I thinking?  What was I doing?  You can’t walk on water!  And just like that, I went down.  The water that had been rock solid beneath suddenly gave way.  I went under and thrashed my way back to the surface, gasping and flailing.  I am a strong swimmer, but those waves were stronger than me!  I cried out, “Jesus, save me!”  And the next thing I knew, I felt his hand grip my forearm and he pulled me up.  As I looked into his eyes, the water became rock solid once again.  He looked at me with a mixture of great love and great exasperation. “Your faith in me is so small.  Why did you doubt me?”

“And there you have it, John Mark.  The secret.”

“What do you mean?  I don’t understand.”

“John Mark, the secret to dealing with fear – the secret to walking on water – really, the secret to all of your life – is keeping your eyes on Jesus.  If you do that, you won’t have it in you to focus on the wind and waves.  Focus on those – your fears, your circumstances, your feelings – and you will sink like a rock every time.  Focus on Him and you will find that you can do anything He has asked you to do!  Trust me – if I had kept my focus on Him all the time while He was here, I never would have betrayed him the way I did.  When that girl asked me in the courtyard if I had been with Jesus, I would have had a different answer if I had focused on him instead of my fears!”

I sit in silence, taking it in.

But then I just have to ask.

“Peter, I don’t know how to do that.  He’s gone, ascended into heaven.  We both saw him go.  So how in the world can I keep my eyes on him?  That sounds good – but he’s not here.”

A fire leaps to Peter’s eyes as he grips my arm with a surprisingly strong hand.  “Oh, my young friend, you are wrong!  He IS here.  He sent his Holy Spirit to live inside you, inside me.  I have all the power in me for all that I need to live a godly life.  And so do you!  Not because we are special – but because He dwells inside us.  You are right – I cannot see him with these eyes in my head.  But I can see him with the eyes of my heart.  I still have to choose.  I choose to remember all he did, all he has done, all he said.  I focus on that and not on my fears.  And that is fixing my eyes on him.  That is the secret to not being afraid!”

A slow warmth invades my heart.  Perhaps I, too, can be unafraid.  I know I want to be.  I want to focus on the Master and not on my fears.  And I want to learn all I can about him.

“Yes, my young friend?

“Can I come back another day to hear more?
“Of course!  I love nothing more than to tell you about the Lord.”


I was afraid this morning.

The wind and waves are high in my life at the moment.

But then I thought about Peter. And about John Mark.  The young man who deserted Paul (Acts 15) is, as tradition tells us, the same young man who interviewed Peter and then wrote what we call the book of Mark.  We don’t actually know why he left Paul on his first journey.  It may have been fear – it may have been something else.  But for all I don’t know, this I do know:

I want to keep my eyes on Jesus.

I want to walk on water.

I don’t want fear to make me stay in the boat.

My prayer for both of us today:

“…let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith…”

Hebrews 12:1b, 2a





Life In a Sentence…

“When I was in college, I was a wild child.”

“My Mother-in-law and I never could see eye-to-eye on anything.”

“I traveled Europe after college and had an amazing time!”

We all do it.
We take a chunk of time, a period in our lives and reduce it to one or two sentences.
None of the sentences above apply to me. But some of mine might be:

“I was an incredible Pharisee in high school, filled with self-righteousness.”

“I lived in Japan for three years in my 20’s and had some of the best and some of the worst experiences of my life. But that time definitely shaped who I am today.”

“I taught for Charles County Public Schools for 9 years and have been on staff at South Potomac Church for the last 14 years; I loved both jobs, although both were (or are) difficult in their own way.”

One or two sentences.
Encompassing years.
And usually with some kind of descriptor attached that sums up that time, for good or for bad.

We all do it.
And there is nothing wrong with it.
It’s a way to catalogue history, especially when you are just getting to know someone or perhaps filling them in on a chapter in your life.

True confessions, this idea is not original to me. I first heard it in a sermon by Andy Stanley several years ago. But it has stuck with me. Because, while it is true that I sum up vast periods of my life in a few sentences, there is an important fact that I – that we – often fail to recognize:

We’re writing those sentences today.
The ones we will use in another decade or two to describe this season of our lives.
And, to some extent, we have control over how those sentences are written!

“When my kids were little, I was more concerned with them than I was with the state of my housekeeping.”

“When my Grandmother was in the nursing home, I made sure I took the time to go see her.”

“During the 35 years of our marriage, we fought but we made sure we never went to bed angry.”

“While I had my chemo treatments, I tried really hard to remember to praise God in the storm.”

I have very little control over the circumstances of my life.
I can be a good steward of my money and still find myself in an impossible situation.
I can take care of my body and still find it wracked with illness.
I can marry a godly man and still find that marriage is hard work because we are both sinners.

But, while I have little control over what happens to me, I have complete control over my attitude while it’s happening.
How I face those circumstances, for good or for bad.
And the choices I make – the tiny, every-day, seemingly-inconsequential choices I make by the thousands in a 24-hour period – those I can control.

I can choose the option that puts God first.
I can choose the option that puts others ahead of myself.
The one that focuses on forgiveness rather than bitterness.
The one that feeds my soul and not my temptations.
The one that says my beliefs are more than just words I spout, songs I sing, or things I hear on Sunday.
The one that controls my words. My tone. My attitude. My thoughts. My actions. My reactions.

Because every choice I make today writes the sentence for a decade from now.

But even more than that, every choice I make today reflects the sentence I long to hear more than any other. At the end of my earthly existence – whenever that may be – I want God’s one sentence summary of my life to be, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

May you and I, today, write a fabulous sentence to the glory of God. And may we do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the one after that.

So, how’s that writing going?