Sunday, February 5, 2012


Steering the Ship


There is an old story about a sea captain who was at the top of his profession. He had earned a reputation as one who could make excellent decisions in times of crisis. People did notice, though, that just before it was time to give his orders to the crew, he would go down to his stateroom, open his safe, and pull out a slip of paper and read it. Then he would stride on deck and make the right call. 

Naturally, curiosity was high.  It was no surprise, that, when he died, one of the first things the crew did after his funeral service, was to gather in his stateroom and watch while the first mate opened the safe and pulled out the well-worn slip of paper.  He read it aloud:

“Port left, Starboard right.”

In difficult times, the captain knew to remind himself repeatedly of the basics. The captain’s little slip of paper held information that everyone already knows. But it was his secret, the basic source of his ability to act.

What if that is the answer to eternal happiness and joy – getting the basics right? I wonder….

Are you Serious

I was reading a blog about the scriptures this week and came across this criticism of the Psalm which made me stop and ask some deep questions… the author, Larry Patton, picked out three verses and wrote:
He heals the brokenhearted… (Ps. 147:3). If that’s true, then why do so many of the people I call for pastoral care weep, sound anguished, speak with voices as if worn out by shouting in a storm?

He determines the number of stars… (Ps. 147:4). Please. In Biblical times they thought the sky was a fixed dome, and the sun moved just above the clouds each day. It’s the Bible that claims Joshua made the sun stand still (Joshua 10). So pardon me if I don’t equate ancient theological metaphors with modern astronomy.

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden… (Ps. 147:6). Can the good Lord please talk some sense into those forlorn homeless men at the corner of Fresno’s Blackstone and Herndon who brandish signs like: I’m a vetran and hongry, pleas help me? They appear permanently downtrodden.

I mean, seriously, he has a point. The Bible seems chock full of platitudes or advertising slogans for God which are designed to help us feel better; or which indeed promise to make us feel better, but we often see no signs of it happening in real life.

Hmmm, I wonder who is off track, us or God?

I mean – is this a case of forgetting to go back to basics? Is the problem with the world that we don’t take the time, like the captain, to tackle our problems from the simplest possible place?

There are poor, is it God’s fault or ours? There is heartache, is it God’s fault or ours? There is dependence on God for what we should do ourselves, is it God’s fault or ours?

See… think about all of this again think about how Isaiah the prophet called Israel in the midst of tough times to go back to basics:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?... He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

God is not going to fix the problems – God has created you… God is at work in you…. You are loved. That is the port and starboard of your life…

Back to Basics

Jesus had a lot of opportunities to get off on the wrong track. He got popular really fast; he drew crowds; he healed people who mattered. I can imagine that there was a good deal of flattery, and that it felt good to his ego.

Not only that, but there were the disciples who were assuredly tickled pink by the success. After all, they wanted Jesus to become popular, to become a folk hero, and to rescue them from the Romans. In their minds there was no such thing as bad press.

But think about who Jesus was – a simple man, from a small town, with a message to share, and a lot of charisma…. He never chose the important seat at the table, he never visited kings or queens, he never asked for rewards of any kind… but the temptation must have always been there.

So here he is preaching to crowds in the synagogue; then he goes and performs a miraculous healing; and all of a sudden the whole city had gathered at his door.

What does Jesus do? He sneaks out the back… he heads out to the seashore for a walk… and finds some time to be alone and recharge his energy and refocus his priorities… it is no wonder when the disciples catch up with him that he tells them “we are moving on.”

I mean, this goes back to that old story about Jesus and the temptations in the desert. Which are basically the temptations that face us all in life: What if you could become famous? What of nothing could hurt you? What If you were rich?

None of us are immune to that are we? We sometimes get caught up in searching for fame and fortune, or we make decisions based on what we think other people want us to do… we don’t take the time to go back to basics.

Jesus does just what our sea captain did. And he does it a lot. Jesus is always heading up a mountain to pray, or into the garden to pray, or along the seashore to pray, or out in a boat to pray. He is also heading off to all of those places alone, to spend time just him and God.

I wonder how often we take the time to do things like this… I know I don’t do it enough.


What would you write on the note in the drawer if you were the sea captain?

What is the most basic truth that would re-assure you about life?

Jesus once suggested the whole “God loves you, love others” as the most basic rule… but I suspect we all need different messages to get us through the tough times: it might be, “You are a good enough parent.” Or perhaps “You are good at what you do.” Or even “God loves you, so do other people.”

But I think there is some truth in the idea that we too often forget the basics, and we need to take time away, we need to focus on those things, in order to handle the rough times life is going to throw at us.

NO matter what happens, though, it can help to remember that God loves us.

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