The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

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TD Friday – “Everywhere & Nowhere SG Study

Hey TD!

In this post you will have nearly everything you need to prepare for our small groups this Friday – the mp3 and small group study of “Everywhere and Nowhere,” as well as a meaningful Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning Shull entitled, “An Answered Prayer.”  It’s like a TD small group kit!

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (message) – Sandra

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (small group study)

Please prepare as well as you can for our first small group study of 2016!  The better everyone prepares, the better our small groups will be!  Prep well, TD!

An Answered Prayer 

Just type the word “prayer” into an internet search engine as I did the other day and you’ll find almost a hundred million different articles, sites, books, and periodicals on the topic. Discussions about prayer are as ubiquitous as the praying football player in the end zone after a touchdown. Every major world religion has some form of prayer, and in some of the earliest words to the church Christians are exhorted to pray “without ceasing.”

And yet if we’re honest, prayer can be a frequent source of confusion and deep mystery. Confusion comes not only with questions concerning what to pray and how to pray, but also in questioning whether or not prayers make a difference or are being heard at all. Phillip Yancey’s book, which asks one such question in the title, attempts to address many of these questions about prayer. Why does God seem silent so much of the time to our prayers? Why does God seem to answer prayers affirmatively for some and not for others? And when all we seem to receive in response to our prayers is “no,” how are we to understand both prayer’s efficacy and the God who loves us?(1)

If these questions aren’t difficult enough, Jesus’s own bold statements about prayer make us all the more confused. The Gospel of Matthew seems to record some matter-of-fact statements about prayer. After all, Jesus proclaimed, “I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, it shall be opened.” Likewise, Jesus promises that like our earthly fathers, God longs to give us what is good in response to the asking, seeking, and knocking of prayer.(2)

Yet Luke’s Gospel narrative makes explicit what Matthew’s Gospel keeps implicit about the gifts given in response to prayer. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?(3) According to Jesus, the goal of all prayer is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate “good gift” that God gives in response to our asking, seeking, and knocking.

So, then, Jesus describes prayer in terms of connection and affiliation, a linking of our lives by the Son with the Father who gives the gift of the Spirit. The more this connection grows and develops, the more one desires it. Hence, God promises to give us more of the Holy Spirit-in and through all the circumstances of life-as the deep answer and the good gift in response to prayer.

Further, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, and the one who comes alongside us.(4) This is the same Spirit the apostle Paul suggests “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words,” and “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”(5) Therefore, when difficulties come, when our prayers seemingly go unanswered, there is the unfailing assurance that we are not alone. The Father longs to come near to us as tangibly as the human Son of God has come into the world and as assuredly as the comforting presence of God’s Spirit who comes alongside us.

Craig Barnes, former pastor of the National Presbyterian Church, adds:

“Sometimes life gets overwhelming, and we realize we could use a little help. So we pray for our health to get better, for our marriage to work out, for success in our work that has taken a turn for the worse. There is nothing wrong in praying for these things, but they are not what our salvation is about. Don’t expect Jesus to save us by teaching us to depend on the things we are afraid of losing! He loves us too much to let our health, marriage, or work become the savior of our lives. He will abandon every crusade that searches for salvation from anything or anyone other than God. So he delays, he watches as we race down dead-end streets, he lets our mission du jour crash and burn. To receive Jesus as Savior means recognizing him as our only help. Not our only help for getting what we want. But our only true help.”(6)

God’s promise to be present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit suggests that God’s presence with us is the deepest answer to prayer. It is God’s “yes” even if God answers our specific requests with “no.” Ultimately, God desires to bring comfort, not from dependence on the things of this world, but in God’s presence with us and alongside us through the Spirit.

Through the power and presence of the Spirit, God longs to be the very answer to our prayers. Ask, and the Holy Spirit will be given to you. Seek, and you will find the Holy Spirit with you. Knock, and the door of God’s kingdom will be opened to you. For how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask?

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

(2) Matthew 7:7-11.
(3) Luke 11:11-13.
(4) John 14:16, 26).
(5) Romans 8:26b-27.
(6) M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 124-125.

Temporarily Able Bodied

T-A-B (Temporarily Able-Bodied) $12.99

On Saturday, Sandra, Eunice, and I were able to help Jenny as she teamed up with prolific author and disability ministry specialist,  Dr. Jeff McNair, to help train World Impact missionaries to the inner city in how to rightly think about and understand those affected by disability, according to God’s eyes and will. 

It was a special time and a great time of reminder and value for me, even though I am a leader in disability ministry.  And that’s how it is, isn’t it?  Those of us with titles, experience, knowledge, etc. are often the ones who most need fresh reminding of why we do what we do in the first place.  This Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning is a great essay for all of us to read and remember who we really are. – Arthur 

My friend Sylvia is a paraplegic. She has not been able to use her legs since she was a high school girl. A horrible accident took away her ability to walk or to run, and left her without any discernible feeling in the lower half of her body—her spine severed, the nerves do not receive the necessary information to register sensation or stimulation.

Prior to her accident, Sylvia was an aspiring athlete. Without the use of her legs, this aspiration would be put on hold, but not permanently. Though she is paralyzed in body, she is not paralyzed in spirit. And she eventually competed in several World Championships and in the Paralympic Games. Her determination to excel at world-class competitions, despite her injury, and her intention to live a full-life has been an immense inspiration to me.

Sylvia uses a term for people like me who have the use of our legs. We are “TAB’s”—Temporarily Able Bodied. Every day I wake up with a new ache or pain, or I see my stamina waning, I recognize the truth of her naming me a “TAB.” I truly am temporarily able bodied—at some point in my life, I will need assistance in many of my daily tasks.

Sylvia is not one to ask for help: she drives, works at least a 40 hour week and has traveled the world. She has mastered the art of navigating the world in a wheelchair. Yet, there are times when even this accomplished athlete needs some assistance. She is grateful for the technology that has developed excellent, lightweight wheelchairs. She is grateful for friends who can reach for the pan in the high cabinetry when we have gathered for home-cooked meals.  And she was grateful when we helped her out of the wheelchair and into the lake so she could swim one beautiful summer day not too many years ago. She welcomes the kind of assistance that develops her abilities in spite of her disability.

While I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be physically paralyzed like my friend Sylvia, I certainly understand the emotional, spiritual and psychological paralysis that results from trauma or duress. After suffering my own form of paralyzing accident, I experienced what I could only describe as a numbing paralysis. While my body functioned, my mind and heart were paralyzed. I could not create any momentum to move me past the questions that imprisoned me or the doubts that bound me. Initiative fled away, drive and determination left me. I was stuck and unable to move. All that had propelled me forward in the past stalled, stopped, and froze. I was, practically speaking, immobile.

I know that my emotional, psychological and spiritual paralysis doesn’t compare to my friend Sylvia’s being a paraplegic. But it did help me understand what it must feel like to lack the freedom to move and to have a sense of being able.

The gospels are filled with stories about paralytics. But the story that always gets my attention occurs in Mark’s gospel. Jesus was teaching in Capernaum in a house that was filled to capacity with listeners. There was not any more room for anyone, let alone a paralytic being carried on a cot by four friends. Yet the crowded house would not deter these determined friends. They were so determined to get their friend to Jesus that they got up onto the roof of the house, with their paralyzed friend, removed the portion of the roof above where Jesus was teaching, and lowered their friend down on his pallet.(1)

I’m not sure how the owners of the house felt when part of their roof was removed, but Jesus, the gospel tells us, saw their faith—faith that went to extraordinary lengths to bring their friend to him. As a result of their faith, Jesus declared that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven. To demonstrate his authority to forgive sins, Jesus then heals him and tells him to “rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And immediately, the paralytic jumps up (perhaps for the first time) and went out before everyone so that “they were all amazed and glorified God.”

In periods of paralysis, we are forced to depend on others, perhaps even relying on the faith, courage, and strength of those who see our abilities even through our disability. Something very beautiful and healing occurs when we allow others to offer us assistance. In my own paralysis, friends gathered around to help me. They did the things I could not do any longer. They said the prayers on my behalf; they believed on my behalf. When I slowly began to move again, they held my arms and steadied my legs. I came to experience a kind of healing because of the assistance and help of my friends. Their faith inspired movement in me towards the God who heals. Indeed, those who are willing to carry the cots of their paralyzed friends embody God’s healing love and care.

There will always be times in life that inhibit forward movement—or any movement at all. In those times, we trust that there will be others to help carry us and care for us.  And when we are moving along, perhaps with such momentum that we could miss those lying in cots along our path, may the same kind of care and determination to help others cause us to stop, pick them up, and carry them with faith to Jesus.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

Consuming Christ

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Hey TD’ers!  Please read through this perceptive, honest, and insightful confession and critique by our friend, Margaret Manning of RZIM.  I believe you will see yourself in it – I know I did!  And I need to do something about it! – Arthur

It can happen to any of us since it begins innocently enough. We need to get a new camera, or a new outfit, and we begin an online search. We begin comparing prices and online reviews hoping to find the best value. Before we know it, we’ve spent an entire afternoon shopping for whatever is the latest and greatest product.

Perhaps we feel great about scoring the best deal, but I know that for me, I am overcome with a sense of disgust that an entire afternoon was lost to shopping. I feel sheepish about how I’ve used what little precious time I have to satisfy my latest consumer craving. Furthermore, the more I indulge my desire to satisfy my purchasing power the more my identity becomes that of a purchaser. As Annie Leonard notes in The Story of Stuff, “Our primary identity has become that of being consumers—not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers. We shop and shop and shop.”(1)

For the United States in particular, what began as a period of unparalleled optimism and prosperity in following World War II has become a national obsession. Retailing analyst, Victor Lebow, expressed the solution for converting a war-time prosperity into a peace-time economy of growth and abundance: “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption….[W]e need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”(2) In addition, the chairman of President Eisenhower’s council of economic advisors stated: “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.”(3)

This seems a very reductive purpose statement when looking at something as complex as economic systems. But this was the basic thinking of the time. I wonder about the success of this strategy. On the one hand, I did just spend hours of my day shopping. On the other hand, there are the perennial issues of health care, education, citizens, communities, housing, transportation, recreation, or less poverty and hunger to consider as well. Should the ultimate goal for any economy be to simply create a mass culture of consumption? Or is it to create a better society?

It doesn’t take an expert to see the impact of this ‘solution’ in our lives today. We live in a throw-away society, where what we currently have today is passé tomorrow. More insidious, of course, is the way in which a consumptive-economy works to make us feel inadequate if we do not have the latest and greatest shoes, clothes, cars, tools, technology, or gadgets.

Of course, no one is immune from this entrenched influence. A consumer-driven mentality impacts the way in which Christians view and participate in church community. Casual language about “church shopping” belies one of the more subtle impacts. It becomes more and more difficult to see the church as the present day representation of Jesus Christ; we are members of this organic body entrusted with mission and witness in the larger society. Instead, consumerism tempts Christians to see ourselves as “shoppers” examining who offers the best product for our needs. Following Jesus looks more like a marketing strategy for a better life, marriage, kids…and on and on the shopping goes.

If belonging to a church is judged as a product to be consumed, the church must appeal to the consumer to “buy into” the product. As a result, the message sounds more and more like self-help messages of Jesus as the answer to our every need, our every discomfort, and our every trial. Indeed, Jesus becomes the ultimate product to provide us with the life we’ve always wanted—comfort, convenience, and efficiency. As the church reduces Jesus to a commodity, there is more and more pressure to “sell” the benefits of following Jesus. As a result, the counter-consumer messages of the gospel are ignored or altered. But what did Jesus say?

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth. No one can serve two masters. If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does life consist of possessions. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves….for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.(4)

Indeed, in response to this last teaching of Jesus, John’s gospel reports that many of the disciples said, “‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’….[And] as a result of this many of his disciples withdrew, and were not walking with him anymore” (John 6:60, 66).

Who can hear the message of the gospel in a world that makes consumer confidence the measure of strength or weakness, success or failure? Who can listen to it when our chief desire is for a packaged Jesus, not too challenging and certainly comforting, ready and able to meet every need? Indeed, who can listen to the challenging words of Christ when we are about the business of converting “the buying and use of goods into rituals,” and seeking “our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption?”(5) Are we rightly consuming Christ or simply shopping for another product?

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team in Seattle, Washington.

(1) Anne Leonard, http://www.storyofstuff.com. (2) As cited in “Consumer Culture is no Accident” by David Suzuki, http://www.eartheasy.com/article_consumer_culture.htm, accessed Sept 13, 2013. (3) Ibid. (4) See Matthew 5:44, 6:19, 24, 7:1; Mark 2:17, 8:34; Luke 12:15; John 6:53-68. (5) Victor Lebow as cited in “Consumer Culture is no Accident” by David Suzuki.

God of Hope

Sandra and I have known Margaret Manning for many years.  She is a gifted and insightful thinker and communicator with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  And though we may not always agree on everything, we agree on most.  Hope is a topic she is aptly qualified to address.  Widowed two years ago with the sudden death of her husband of seventeen years, she has ached and experienced the depths of sorrow.  Seeing how she has clung on to Hope; or more accurately, how Hope has clung on to her has been a real encouragement for me.  He is deepening her and continues to be her Eternal Husband.  If you live in fear and need a deeper understanding of hope, read on.  – Arthur

“Do not be afraid,” my instructor encouraged me as my horse continued to back up getting closer and closer to the edge of the trail. The “edge” once crossed would certainly mean that horse and rider would tumble down an eight foot embankment. “Do not be afraid” sounded silly and naïve to me as my horse continued to ignore my increasingly anxious prodding with my arms and legs. “Watch out; beware; don’t ever ride a horse” would have sounded more apropos given these circumstances. I was afraid, terrified even, as my horse backed right over the edge.

Fear is an entirely appropriate and indeed necessary emotion when facing danger. Proper fear ignites the “fight or flight” response in the animal world. And for human beings, we too experience a “fight or flight” response to danger, or harm to life. But our response is much deeper than simply the instinct to survive. Author Scott Bader-Saye argues: “We fear evil because it threatens the things we love—family, friends, community, peace, and life itself.  The only sure way to avoid fear, then, is to love less or not at all. If we loved nothing, we would have no fear, but this would hardly be considered a good thing.”(1) We are afraid of losing that which we love.

Interestingly enough, more than any other command in the Christian bible, Christians are commanded to “fear not,” and to “not be afraid.”(2) In fact, the admonition to not be afraid is offered up 366 times (one for every day of the year and for Leap Year). And just like my instructor, who uttered those words right in the middle of a crisis, so too, the writers of Scripture record these words in the midst of a crisis, or prior to one’s life being turned upside down. In the birth narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus, for example, Zacharias and Mary are told “do not be afraid” even though they are being visited by an angelic being, not a likely or typical visitor. Furthermore, Mary is unmarried, just a young girl. Surely, she must have feared the repercussions of an unplanned pregnancy, including the possibility of her betrothed, Joseph, rejecting her. In the very midst of their worst fears, these and other biblical figures are told not to be afraid.

For many living in today’s world, do not be afraid evokes images of ostriches with their heads in the sand as the world collapses around them. In the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the mayhem that followed, the residents of Massachusetts can attest that uttering these words sounds just as naïve and perplexing as my instructor’s words to me right as my horse backed me off the eight-foot embankment. We have many, many reasons to feel afraid largely because we feel we have so much to lose. Do not be afraid echoes in our heads, whether or not we claim the Christian faith, and we wonder how to live courageously in a world filled with jagged edges and eight-foot embankments that would seek to claim all that is near and dear to us.

While there are no explicit references to hope in the teaching of Jesus, he too encouraged his followers to “not be anxious” but to trust in the God who could be trusted even in the face of our anxieties. Hope, contrary to what many of us might believe, is not the absence of fear but often arises in the midst of fear. It is both that which anchors us in the midst of the storm, and that which compels us to move forward—however ploddingly—towards goals, others, and the God whom the apostle Paul names the “God of hope” in his letter to the Romans. We hold on to hope, just as I held on while my horse slid backwards with me on her back, down the embankment that seemed without bottom, down to what I feared would end her life and my life. It is a desperate clinging to the God who is mysterious, and of whom we do not have control. There is a mystery in hope because we do not know how God will intervene.

I lived to tell about my horse-riding adventure without even a broken bone—not my own bones, or the bones of my horse. I couldn’t see the wide trail below me that would hold me, and would offer sure footing for my wayward steed. Our lives are often this way; we are often afraid because we cannot see where we will land. In the midst of broken bodies, maimed or decimated limbs, and in the loss of life itself fear can blind, disorient, and dismantle all that was normal before. But hope longs to hold us and to ground us in the midst of our fears. Hope is like a broad place, a wide trail underneath us. And though we know of those who fell and were not caught, though we all know that eventually life will end for all whom we love and hold dear, though we often fear a world destroying itself, the God of hope is at work raising the dead to life. Do not be afraid.

Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

 

(1) Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 39-40. (2) Lloyd Ogilvie cited in John Ortberg, If You Want To Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of The Boat (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 118.