Training Wheels

all things

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Galatians 3:15-22, Matthew 14:22-36


After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat, and retreated to a mountain to pray in solitude. A storm broke, and great waves pushed the disciples far from shore. In the morning they saw Jesus walking across the water toward them, but mistook him for a ghost. When Peter realized who was coming, he climbed out of the boat and started walking toward him. A strong wind frightened Peter and he began to sink. Jesus reached out to save him, and asked: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Who exactly was Peter doubting? Was it Jesus … or himself? Only a few hours earlier he and the other disciples had fed a crowd of thousands with little more than the makings of a few fish sandwiches. Jesus had blessed the food, but he told the disciples to do the feeding. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was preparing the disciples to carry on his mission after he was gone. That meant teaching them to trust themselves to do the work. Of course all they accomplished was through Christ, but they would have to do the actual work; losing confidence when the winds turned against them would sink the mission entirely.

How many miles and hours do parents spend running behind bicycles once the training wheels have been taken off? Their steadying hands at first provide balance, then only the illusion of balance, and finally they let the child ride alone. The Law was like a set of training wheels – for a while it kept the people upright, but over time it outgrew its usefulness, and the people relied on it for the wrong reasons. During his ministry, Jesus was removing the training wheels and teaching his followers to find their balance.

Our growth follows a similar path. When we doubt we can count on him to reach out that steadying hand, but eventually we must act. Faith is not believing Jesus will do what we ask of him, but believing he has already prepared us for what he asks us to do.

Comfort: When our faith feels wobbly, Christ stands ready to steady us.

Challenge: It’s easy to confuse what we want with what God wants.

Prayer: Powerful and ever-loving God, grant me strength and faith to do the work you ask of me. Amen.

Discussion: Has doubt or fear been holding you back from something you feel called to do?

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Reading the Room

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new window/tab):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Genesis 37:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:1-19, Mark 1:1-13


Have you heard the expression “read the the room?” It refers to someone’s ability to gauge an audience’s mood and response. Comedians learn to read a room because every crowd responds differently. Executives read a room to determine the level of support for a proposal. Comedians can change the content of the message to please an audience, but a good leader with an important message can adjust only the style, never the meaning.

Jacob and his son Joseph were not skilled at reading a room.

Jacob’s obvious favoritism toward Joseph left his other eleven sons bitter. When he gave Joseph a special robe with long sleeves, it might as well have had a target embroidered on the back. At the age of seventeen Joseph began having prophetic dreams. In these dreams, his brothers – represented by sheaves of wheat or stars – bowed down to him. Whether he was simply oblivious to his brothers’ scorn, or wanted to spite them because of it, sharing his dreams made them more jealous than ever and they began to plot against him.

As Christians, we will be called to say unpopular things. We can adjust our style (even Paul adapted to local audiences) but we don’t have the option of altering the core message, because it originates with Christ. We want his message about God’s love and justice to be taken seriously and understood clearly.Therefore we should think before we speak, and try to anticipate how we will be perceived. Dressing our message in flamboyant, self-important language and attitude will cause people to react favorably or unfavorably more because of the style than the content. Giving the impression that we believe we are somehow superior to our listeners will give them an excuse stop listening. We want to be confident but not cocky; we are the trusted bearers of the message, not its source. A little humility goes a long way.

Humility will not always prevent others from criticizing, demeaning, or persecuting us for sharing the Gospel. In the end we want to be the best ambassadors for Christ we can be, regardless of the cost.

Comfort: You can have confidence in the Gospel.

Challenge: Work on striking a balance between knowing your audience and remaining true to your message.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the Gospel message of love and justice. Lend me strength and wisdom to share it with others. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever changed your message because it was unpopular? What were the consequences?

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