Sunday, May 10, 2009



This week I want to share a few thoughts around the theme of stress. Earl Palmer, long-time pastor of a Presbyterian church in Berkeley, California offers a great illustration-being lost on your own and being found by God-with the following parable:

Four people were on a cruise from Los Angeles to Hawaii. After dinner, when they were about a thousand miles out, a friend asked, "Can I take your picture together up on the deck?"

"Sure," came the enthusiastic reply, and they all proceeded to the deck to pose. The photographer had them stand right in front of the side railing.

As he was getting ready to take the picture he said, "Would you mind moving back just a little bit? I'm having trouble focusing." Not knowing that the photographer had loosened the railing behind them, the innocent foursome followed his instruction. "I'm still having a little trouble," the photographer said. "Could you back up a couple more steps?" You guessed it-with a splash all four of them went overboard. The photographer waved good-bye to them and headed back downstairs. Some friend!

But that was the least of their worries now. With a thousand miles separating them from either shore, the four floating passengers had a serious problem.

One of the overboard passengers was an idol worshiper. Fortunately for him he had his idol with him at dinner, on deck, and now down in the water. It weighed thirty-nine pounds, but the man was thankful to have it in his moment of need. He began to stroke the nose of the idol three times in a northward direction and then prayed to the idol. Certainly that would get him out of deep water, he thought. But for some reason it didn't work. As he stroked and prayed and stroked and prayed, the idol got heavier and heavier. His bobbling began to resemble sinking, and he decided it was time to drop the idol. It wasn't doing the job.

The second overboard passenger, a moralist, was a specimen of physical fitness. Every morning at 6 he had gone down to the gym to swim two miles and strut his rippling muscles around for all to see. He wasn't at all concerned about being dumped in the ocean-in fact he was downright obnoxious about it. "Didn't I warn you guys?" he said to the others. "I've been telling you for years to eat right and exercise; but no, you wouldn't listen. Now there's no way you're going to make it to shore. But just in case you care to try, the side-stroke works best for long distances." Poor guy, he didn't realize how far a thousand miles is. He actually thought he could swim to shore-at least for the first few miles.

Overboard passenger number three was a legalist. He dealt with the situation quite logically. He knew they were a thousand miles from either shore and that the situation was desperate. There was no way of swimming the distance and no chance of rescue. It would be either drowning or shark-bait time for all of them. "I told you that photographer couldn't be trusted," the legalist said. "But you were all so vain you had to have your picture taken. I knew something awful would occur if we went up on deck with him. I just knew something like this would happen." And down he went, knowing full well why.

The last of the four overboard passengers was an existentialist. He didn't take things too seriously. To him the past was the past and the future was the future; all that concerned him was the present. Life only had meaning in the moment it was lived, so he wasn't worried about his destiny. He would just tread water, soak it in, and eventually sink.

That's man's predicament. He's lost at sea with no life jacket, no raft, and no Coast Guard to come along and rescue him. All he can do is swim, and that only for a short time. He can't make it on his own; he needs help. He needs a big bridge to get him to shore.

That's what Jesus is all about and that's what God provides through His Messiah. There is no excuse for being far from God, because God provides the love and forgiveness to get us back to shore. We must only receive it through personal faith.

The only way to keep from sinking is to stop living your life without God. I've heard thousands of excuses for not relating to God, and none of them works. Only forgiveness helps. You can excuse your life away or exchange your life with God for a new one. It's your choice!

In one hand you have a death certificate, because you're out in the middle of the ocean with no way to get back to shore. In the other hand you have God and His Messiah, Jesus, and eternal life. All God wants you to do is exchange with Him-make a trade. You don't have to follow forty-nine steps, stare at stained glass, memorize the first five books of the Bible, keep the rules or say the Doxology backward. All you have to do is make the exchange, and once you realize you're out of excuses, you'll be ready to make the trade. God loves you unconditionally. All you have to do is receive it.