Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV
Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
– Matthew 14:22-33, ESV
“Pressing On” (1980) by Bob Dylan
Well I’m pressing on, Yes I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on, To the higher calling of my Lord
Well I’m pressing on, Yes, I’m pressing on
Well I’m pressing on, To the higher calling of my Lord
(Repeat chorus yet again)
Many try to stop me
Shake me up in my mind
Saying, prove to me that he’s the Lord
Show me a sign
What kind of sign they need
When it all comes from within
What’s lost has been found
What’s to come has already been
(Repeat chorus twice)
Shake the dust off of your feet, Don’t look back
Nothing can hold you back, Nothing that you lack
Temptation’s not an easy thing, Adam given the Devil reign
‘Cus he sinned I got no choice, it runs in my vein
(Repeat chorus about one thousand times lol)
Speaking to Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), this morning, I asked him what he thought of the pack leader going to the hospital tomorrow to have yet another foot surgery. His reply was to lunge at me, continuing the Predator Game, as if to say, “Tomorrow can worry about itself. Let’s play!” Jack lives in the moment, but not passively. He is alert and curious: watching and sniffing for food, staring intensely into human eyes, and attempting to ingratiate himself to other pack members. Alertness and focus are qualities that the BSD usually displays, but more about that later.
The Bible Study Dog was rather well-behaved at Bible study tonight. Jack slept on someone’s lap, then engaged in silent prayer for table scraps, and finally walked folks to the yard gate at the end of the evening. He is now waiting for me to come to bed, bringing his customary tasty treats.
Our theme today, as you can see, is “focus.” I know someone with focus: Mr. Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog. Arriving home from worship recently, we found Jack Lewis waiting for us in the closest shade he could find (Jack doesn’t like heat any more than I do) near the gate. I remarked to my wife, Terry, that I am fascinated that some dogs, especially Jack, will look into one’s eyes for a long time, or at inappropriate times, in a way that many humans would consider bad manners in another human. Terry said, “You know that Jack lives for you, don’t you?” We laughed. But it’s true that the BSD was appointed to be in a symbiotic relationship with me as surely as a giant fish was appointed to swallow Jonah.
Someone else who, at least briefly, had focus was St. Peter. As St. Matthew tells the story, when Yeshua (Jesus) came walking on the water to the disciples’ boat, Peter asked Jesus to “…command me to come to you on the water.” Yeshua said, “Come.” The Word that commanded, “Let there be light” and there was light, through whom all things were created, could of course, accomplish this small thing of enabling Peter to walk on water. Though I saw a cartoon recently that said something to the effect that, if someone was seen walking on water today, people would say it’s because she can’t swim; people are perverse. But I digress.
Fear runs through this story. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they thought he was a ghost, and “…they cried out in fear”; they were “terrified.” Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (I have written in another blog post about the relationship between ‘heart’, courage, and encouragement; and how ‘heart’ can leak out of us.) When Peter, walking on the water, saw the storm, “he was afraid.” Just as Yeshua was present to the disciples, reaching down to rescue Peter, when he began to sink, and calming the waters, so Yeshua has promised us, “Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus’ powerful Word, his command to “come”, sparked faith in Peter so that he could step out of the safety of the boat (perhaps a symbol of the church), into the world of wind, waves and storm. Have you heard the call of Yeshua, “Come, follow me”? I hope you said “yes”, and if not, you can say “yes” right now. However, so many that trust in Yeshua as Savior for forgiveness of their sins, and as Lord of every area of their lives, don’t follow him very far. They become distracted by “conditions”, the threatening winds of life, and lose their focus on Jesus, and begin “to sink.” Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” It’s a short and succinct prayer, understandable under the circumstances, but it has all the necessary elements: 1) it’s addressed to the Living God, to the Lord Jesus, not “to whom it may concern”, or the forces of nature, etc.; 2) it gets to the point, to be saved, and there are many ways in which Yeshua saves us, depending on what ‘pit’ we are in: and 3) “me”, we should not be too proud or ‘spiritual’, to ask for our own needs.
We are to focus on our aim in life, as can be seen in our text from Hebrews 12, and keep moving in the same direction (“endurance”), or we will not make progress. If the goal keeps changing, we will not make any progress, and if we aim at nothing, we will surely hit it (ha! ha!). The “cloud of witnesses”, who have run this race of faith before us, and the example of our Lord Jesus, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” encourage us. We must not look back. Jesus said that, whoever put his hand to the plow and looked back, was not worthy of him, and I would add, will not plow straight. Think of trying to look over your shoulder while driving a car or riding a bicycle. It is interesting that the text not only instructs us to lay aside sin (we expect that), but we are also to “…lay aside every weight…” A weight to give up could include ‘dead weight’, anything that slows us down (if you have been backpacking you know all about this – no, you can’t take a six-pack) or it could be a distraction, like the siren calls of “the world, the flesh and the Devil”, or unfruitful drama in your life, or the consumption of culture that does not build up, or just the winds of life.
I also think that sometimes ‘focus’ is just another word for ‘perspective.’ The Virgin Mary magnified the Lord; God’s name was great in her eyes. But sometimes we magnify ourselves: we are great in our own eyes and God is small. It’s a matter of perspective, seeing what really matters most. It’s like looking through the right end of a telescope instead of the wrong end. Perspective: don’t start your day without it. I’m thinking of the story about the twelve spies sent into Canaan to “spy out” the land before invasion. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave an encouraging report, but ten spies gave a “bad report”, a discouraging and faithless report. The majority report said that, “…all the people that we saw in [the land] are of great height…and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (You can read about this in Numbers 13:32-33.) My Dad called this “grasshopper faith”, what Jesus called “little faith.”
Sooo…, we are called to follow Yeshua, and to focus on him, not turning back or looking to the right or the left. The majority report that says, “look out for #1”, survival is the aim, competition is the means, “all is fair in love and war”, try to be in the “in-crowd”, have sharp elbows, “live and let die”, self-esteem must be protected at all costs, and “power” or some other idol (God-substitute) is god, will eventually leave you discouraged, unfulfilled, run over, overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless.
However, the minority report, the report of faith, trust, confidence, and faithfulness, teaches us that one plus YHWH is a majority, that as we magnify Jesus, and not ourselves, ironically, we become confident, hopeful, able to keep going and able to withstand the winds of life. It’s a matter of perspective. I am little and weak, but I serve a God who is great and powerful! I wouldn’t have it any other way; I’m thinking of that band called “Thousand Foot Crutch.”
…I press on to make it my own… [O]ne thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12b, 13b & c, 14, ESV
This post was powered by the albums, “Saved” (1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981), both by Bob Dylan, and the album, “Brutal Romantic” (2014), by Brooke Fraser; and Hannah Kirby, quarter-finalist from “The Voice”, singing Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On”, a couple of days after returning home from “The Voice.” The best version on YouTube is titled, “Hannah Kirby Sings Bob Dylan.”