Faith and Uncle Tut's Outboard Motor

“’If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’ Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’” (Matthew 9:21-22)

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus said to someone, “your faith has healed [saved] you?” We see it in the above reference to the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She pushed through a crowd crushing around Jesus, hoping only to touch his cloak. (Luke 8:43-48)

We see it with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar sitting by the road outside of Jericho, persisting in calling out to Jesus as he passed even though the crowd attempted to silence him. (Mark 10:46-52)  We see it in the friends of a paralytic who went to the extraordinary efforts of taking him upon on a roof and then lowering him down through the tiles in the middle of a crowd in order to get him to Jesus. (Luke 5:18-26)

In each of these instances it was the actions that these people took based upon their faith that brought forth a response from Jesus.   

Faith is incomplete without some kind of action. We need to act on our faith in order for it to have effect. It usually requires that we go out on a limb and risk failure, embarrassment, or disappointment. Here is a small example.

A number of years ago three of my daughters and I were water skiing in Uncle Tut’s boat in the sound between Holden Beach, NC and the mainland when the outboard motor conked out. He tried to start it several times, he fiddled with a number of adjustments, but nothing seemed to work. It was getting late in the day. There were no other boaters in the area. He had no VHS radio, and it was a time before cell phones. We just sat there in the middle of the sound, unable to get back to the landing. I started to silently pray that the motor would start.   Uncle Tut kept pulling at the starter cord, but nothing happened.

I got a sense that I needed to pray out loud so Uncle Tut and my daughters could hear me. As Tut was giving it another pull, I shouted, “Lord Jesus, start the engine!” Varoom, the motor started right up. Uncle Tut, who loved to tell stories, told this story for years – how my prayer started his motor when nothing else could.

Every day we have opportunities to act on our faith. If we see a questionable business practice, our faith in Christ should enable us to speak up for integrity. If a friend is discouraged, our faith should motivate us to provide encouragement. If someone needs to talk, our faith should be willing to listen. If we see a need for healing, our faith should be willing to offer to pray with the person. If we need healing, our faith should be willing to ask others to pray with us.

Are you willing to risk, in order to activate your faith?

Following Jesus at a Distance

“Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard, and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire.” (Mark 14:54)

Like Peter, we may profess our allegiance to Jesus that “even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” We may recite the creed every Sunday declaring that we believe in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”

Yet, like Peter, there may be times when we keep our distance from Jesus. We may fail to show up for a daily prayer time we set for the beginning of each day. After a busy week of work, and a Saturday filled with our kid’s sports activities, we may let a round of golf take precedence over our attending mass on Sunday.

We may fail to respond to a friend’s request for help because it is not convenient. We may put a higher priority on our comfort as Peter did when he warmed himself by the fire.

Like Peter, we may be thrust into circumstances where we are reluctant to be identified with Jesus. In Peter’s case, it was the guards, the elders and the mob. For us, it may be a boss who has disdain for God, or social friends who consider any reference to Jesus as foolishness.

Early in my career when I attended company meetings followed by cocktails and dinner, the conduct could sometimes get a bit macho and boisterous. It was not unusual for the conversation to involve exaggerated exploits, the building up of self and the putting down of others, off-color jokes, gossip, and the fawning over whoever might be the most senior person present. At some point I began to realize that when I went along with this kind of conduct I was distancing myself from Jesus. It was so easy to go with the flow and tempting to want to be a part of the group. It required a decision on my part not to participate.

Just as Peter’s faith was tested, so is our faith tested in numerous ways, some obvious and significant, others subtle and small. From a faith perspective, the subtle can cause as much harm as the obvious because of their corrosive effect.

The world inclines us to keep our distance from Jesus, while Jesus bids us to draw near. He says come to me all who are burdened from the cares of this world and I will give you rest. Come to me all who are thirsty for meaning in life and I will give you understanding. He says step across the distance that separates us, and you will experience my love, my strength and my peace. He warns us that in the world we will have trouble, but assures us that he has overcome the world.

Are there times when you follow Jesus at a distance?

Waiting on the Lord

“The Lord is waiting to show you favor… blessed are all wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) 

Have you ever grown impatient with a prayer request to the Lord?

In the course of our daily lives we place numerous requests before the Lord seeking his blessing and response. We pray for a new job if we have been laid off; the conversion of a loved one or friend; the reconciliation of an alienated relative; the admission to the right college for a family member; the healing of an illness or physical injury for ourselves or others. The examples are endless.

Jesus, of course, encouraged us to pray constantly for our needs and gave us a model in the Lord’s Prayer which contains several requests. He also encouraged us to be patient and persevere in prayer and never give up as illustrated in the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) 

Our experience suggests that there is often a time of waiting between when we offer up our prayer and when it appears to get answered. I had this experience one summer when my sixteen year old grandson, Mark, and I went on a two day boating and fishing trip down the Potomac River south of Washington, DC.

Our plan was to travel down the Potomac about thirty-five miles, stop at various locations to fish, eat the fish we caught for dinner, stay overnight on the boat, and head back the next day, doing the same thing.

At the beginning of the first day I prayed fervently that the Lord would bless Mark with being able to catch many fish. So we proceeded to our first spot on Mattawoman Creek that is usually a sure bet for at least a catfish. We fished for over an hour, but were not even getting a bite. We then proceeded to a nice area just north of the Quantico Marine Base. Again, nothing!

I prayed, “Lord, what’s going on? We should have been able to catch something by now.” So we made a couple of sandwiches, had lunch, and then proceeded further south. I could tell Mark was getting discouraged because he decided to take a nap. We headed down to Fairview Beach where the Potomac turns east for a few miles before it turns south again just north of the 301 Bridge.

It was now later in the afternoon, so we only had about an hour before we had to arrive at a marina where we had a slip reserved for the evening. We stopped at an area where there is an underwater ledge which drops from fifteen to sixty feet. We started fishing. I’m praying, “Lord, we’re running out of time.   We made no other provision for dinner.” Then Mark yelled, “I got one!” And indeed he did, a nice size catfish that ended up being more than two hungry fishermen could eat for dinner.

The Lord’s timing was perfect. It made Mark’s catch all the more memorable. Later that night and the next day we caught several more fish.

Are you willing to wait on the Lord for his perfect timing?

The Lord’s Prayer Awakens a Soul

“Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be your name…” (Mt. 6:9)

When was the last time you listened closely to the words in the Lord’s Prayer?

Once or twice a month, I take communion on Sundays to Catholic residents at a nearby nursing home, including a few residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Some of the Alzheimer residents are not able to receive communion, or are often asleep when I arrive, so I usually just say a short prayer with them.

One Sunday, when I came to one of the women who had her eyes closed (let’s call her Alice for the sake of privacy), I gently touched her on the shoulder and asked her if she would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. She opened her eyes in kind of blank stare. I knelt down beside her, put my hand on her hand, and started to slowly recite the Lord’s Prayer. Her eyes began to open wide and she started to say the words with me. Her eyes became wider and wider as she saw herself remembering the words. A slight smile spread across her face. She appeared as if she were proud of herself for remembering the words. As we finished a small tear appeared in the corner of one of her eyes. I said, “Alice, would you like to receive communion?” “Yes,” she nodded, and I placed the Eucharist on her tongue.

This was the first time that I had ever seen Alice receive communion. It was as if the Lord’s Prayer had awakened her soul and memory, enabling her to recite the entire prayer. It made the back of my neck tingle.

I, too, was impacted by seeing the power of Jesus’ words on Alice, words Jesus suggested to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. (Luke 11:2) For some of us, the Lord’s Prayer may become so familiar that we may recite the words but let their meaning bounce right off our mind and heart.

When I first started to take communion to the residents of this nursing home, I was uncomfortable with the Alzheimer’s residents. In fact, on my second visit I skipped going to their floor. But after seeing the impact of Jesus’ words on Alice and watching how those words awakened God’s presence in her, I received a new love for Alice and all her fellow residents.

How do you retain the meaning and power of the Lord’s Prayer in your life?

An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus

“And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop, no more of this!’ Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51)

Jesus had just finished praying on the Mount of Olives when a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests came to arrest him. The Gospel of John says that the servant’s name is Malchus. (John 18:10)

Imagine if you are Malchus. You have accompanied a group of soldiers, probably at the request of your master, the high priest. You come in the dark of night across the Kidron Valley separating Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives with torches and weapons. Your task is to arrest Jesus whom you have been told is an enemy of the Jewish religion and Israel. One of Jesus’ followers attacks you with his sword, cutting off your ear.

Then this Jesus, your supposed enemy, reaches out and touches your ear and it is fully healed. One moment it is hanging there, bleeding, about to fall off, and the next moment it is completely restored. One moment your adversaries are acting as you would expect adversaries to act, and the next moment Jesus, the object of your arrest, is reaching out to you, not to do you harm, but to undo the harm done by one of his followers.

How can Malchus not be affected? It had to be life changing. Since John identifies him by name in his Gospel, it is likely that Malchus became a follower of Jesus and was familiar to John and the people for whom he wrote his Gospel.

As with Malchus, Jesus is always ready to reach out to us. In the most unlikely of circumstances, he is there, always inviting, ready to heal or respond to a need we have not anticipated. In the ordinary and extraordinary, he is there. Whether it is to open our life to him for the first time, or to go deeper in our relationship with him, he is present.

Like Malchus, I had an unexpected encounter with Jesus many years ago when a priest at a healing mass invited us to imagine that we were alone with Jesus and to give to him any need we might have. For whatever reason I imagined that I was on a country gravel road south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm. Jesus was standing there.

I asked him if he would take away some disorder in my life and he did. As a result, I invited him into all areas of my life, including my professional life, and my life has never been the same. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that from that point forward, all my priorities began to change, as I sought God’s will in each area of my life as a husband, father and an attorney for a large oil company.

Are you willing to be surprised by an unexpected encounter with Jesus?

Friendship with Jesus

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8 NIV) 

St. Paul considered his friendship with Jesus the most important thing in his life. It exceeded his ministry, preaching, miracles, prophesies and every aspect of his life. He said Jesus seemed to confirm this priority in his final words to the disciples when he prayed, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you have sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) The knowledge that Jesus was referring to was not just knowing about God and himself, but knowing the Father and the Son as a person and friend.

Is it possible to have a real friendship with God who we can’t see, or Jesus who died as a human person 2000 years ago?

The disciples and the 500 other people who saw Jesus after his resurrection would likely say yes. (1 Co. 15:6)  Paul, who had been persecuting Christians met Jesus in a vision on his way to Damascus and was given specific instructions about what he was to do next. Paul later describes how he was taken up into heaven to hear indescribable things. Various saints throughout history have had similar experiences.

Many years ago I was at a healing mass in which a priest asked us to engage our imagination to experience Jesus. You may think this sounds phony, but Jesuit author William A. Barry in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says that a major way in which God communicates with us is through our imagination, memories, insights and thoughts. Whether they are from God is a question of discernment, which is often determined by the fruit of what follows.

At that gathering, I imagined that I met Jesus on a country road, south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm. I asked him to take a particular burden from me. He did. And my life has never been the same since. I can describe every detail of that encounter – the gravel road, the farm house nearby, where the mailbox was, and what Jesus looked like and said. It was so real!

For over 40 years I have been meeting with Jesus nearly every morning for coffee. We are friends like my best friend who is my wife; like a few Christian brothers who know me inside and out. The change and fruit in my life following this encounter would indicate that it was authentic, though I am still capable of messing up.

Jesus told the disciples, “I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15) We have the benefit of scripture to learn about the Father and the Son, and their offer to dwell within us. (John 14:23) We also have our God-created ability to think, imagine and receive insights. This, in combination with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments of the church enable us to establish a friendship with the Father and the Son.

Friends share knowledge and experiences. A husband and wife share intimate details about their respective lives. Good friends share joys, sorrows, and the mundane.

Have you sought this kind of friendship with Jesus?

Pride Undermining Success

“But after he had become strong, he became proud to his own destruction and broke faith with the Lord.” (2 Ch. 26:16)

How difficult it is to handle success without pride overtaking us!

Uzziah became king of Judah when he was 16 and reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years. At first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He sought God through the prophet, Zechariah. He built up the defenses of Judah, raised a large army that defeated the Philistines and constructed public works. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.

But the Bible reports he then presumed to enter the temple to burn incense, a duty reserved to the descendants of Aaron. They challenged him, he became angry and as he was raging at them, leprosy broke out on his forehead, which caused him to be isolated for the rest of his life.

In my 38 year career with a large oil company, I saw a number of good men who experienced success, only to see a pride build up in them that led to overreach in the exercise of their authority and subsequent downfall. I too, struggled at times with pride in how I related to others, and in allowing my position to define who I was.

Even the disciples, James and John, sought the position of sitting at Jesus’ right and left. The others became indignant, but Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mk. 10:43, 45) The reason Jesus said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man into the Kingdom of God is because of the pride that often accompanies wealth and worldly success.

Our daughter, Emily has Down syndrome. I have learned so much about humility and the love of God from her. She does not presume any special position, only to love her family and friends and to experience our love in return.

One of the problems with how we handle success is its definition. The world views success in terms of position, authority, power, and wealth, while God views success in terms of whether we are fulfilling his will for our lives. If our focus is on seeking God’s will, we might be better able to handle success however it is defined.

In my morning prayer I sometimes recite a Litany of Humility given me by a friend.

“O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, deliver me from the desire of being esteemed, loved, extolled, honored, praised, consulted or approved. Deliver me from the fear of being humiliated, despised, forgotten, ridiculed or wronged. Grant me the grace to desire that others might be loved more, esteemed more, chosen, praised, preferred, and become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should.”

How do you deal with success and pride in your life?

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