Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stepping Out

My last blog entry suggests that there is an "all-or-nothing" commitment involved in becoming a Christian, i.e., a devoted follower of Christ who is transformed into a "new creation" by His grace, fully assured of a new (and enduring) life. I sincerely believe that this is true. But that is not to deny there may be many steps to be taken along the journey of faith before one crosses that threshold of genuine commitment. It certainly has been true for me. Every day presents a host of decisions that offer me the choice: will I yield to God's way or my way? Will I risk stepping out in full surrender to His control in my life, or pursue my own agenda?

Mark Buchanan, in his book, Your God is Too Safe, describes a territory at the border between Kenya and Uganda that is a no-man's-land of "domesticated lawlessness" -- a place where ironically the "endurance of inertia" lures a traveler to linger. Although not a safe place, it holds an attraction because it affords the sojourner the illusion of freedom from any intrusive authority.

Metaphorically, this transit in borderland pictures the journey of most of us who identify ourselves as Christians. We have taken the initial steps toward the promise of a transformed, resilient, overcoming life in right relationship with our Maker, but hold back from entering into the threatening and unfamiliar territory of full surrender to His sovereign rule in our everyday affairs. We settle into a comfortable inertia, stuck in a borderland between faith and doubt.

A great example in scripture of a man on such a journey is the life of Peter. In an early encounter with Jesus on Peter's journey of faith, Jesus instructs the veteran fisherman to "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Peter initially protests "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets." While beset with (reasonable, logical) doubts based on his own experience, he makes a choice: to follow Jesus' bidding. The result is an overwhelming net-breaking catch of fish. (Luke 5:3-11) This is a dramatic event that God orchestrates for a divine purpose in Peter's life.

Interestingly, Peter's reaction is not one of jump-for-joy elation over his good fortune to have a man in his boat who can, at His will, provide all the prosperity, security and "success" that Peter could wish for. Rather, he recognizes that he is in the presence of One who can control the universe and by that authority, can make demands on his own life. He melts before Jesus with the words, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" He recognizes that, to relate to such a One, he must come to grips with his own sin -- that tenacious tendency to wrest control of his life from any outside authority. (Here is dramatic evidence of God's uncanny ability to use circumstances to reveal hard truths to us. For his part, Peter was willing to face the logical consequences of that truth.)

Jesus does not leave him in his wilted state. Rather, He casts a vision of what life can be like if he will but chose to step out of his familiar/safe surroundings with the words: "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." He promises him a life of purpose that is focused beyond his own agenda and control. It does not promise to be entirely safe (as most of us count safety), but one in which he will never need to fear.

Presented with the choice, Peter leaves the familiar and takes one step at a time out of the boat in pursuit of an agenda that His Master will dictate. His journey is a study in human frailty, exuberance, doubt, courage, failure and triumph -- like that of many Christians. It is a life taken one step at a time. At some point, Peter stepped from the safety of the familiar environment of the boat which he captained, over the gunwale of self-sufficiency, past the tiller of self-direction, disentangling himself from the net of doubts, to pursue after a relationship with One who simply offered to make him a fisher of men -- likely having little clue as to what that meant!

The challenge presented to each of us is how to respond to Christ's invitation to follow Him. The key is to take the step, to leave the deceptive "safety" of living in the borderland of indecision, doubt and half-commitment. Putting one foot in front of the other and dropping those things which ensnare or divert us, we by faith take another step in His direction.

This is the path I am set upon and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate so many of you sharing the trail with me.

Grateful for each step of the journey,
Dr Dan

* Pictured above is a pair of my sadly worn-out athletic shoes and their brand new replacements, purchased on faith that I will get sufficient use of them to make the investment worthwhile!


  1. Dan, I think we can all relate to everyday choices of whether we will yield to GOD's way or our way. In addition to everyday life and choices, I have also been given a choice of whether to succumb to a recent Dr. diagnosis that says I have an aggressive, painful, crippling, deforming rhuematoid arthritis and that I may need some help in the future. ( Dont we all at some point in our lives? need help?) So, do I give up living, or do I live by the Jesus report that says I can do all things through HIM who gives me strength, one day at a time. After all, I have no guarentees after today, but I choose the latter. I wonder if anyone really knows the sacrifice of being a wholehearted Christian? We practice His presence daily, pray daily, encourage and help people daily and find ways to serve HIM daily, but are we giving up ALL to live each day HIS WAY. I doubt it. I dont know what tomorrow brings, but I only know that for TODAY....I want to live outside of MYSELF and my 4 walls and surrender all of my will over to a faithful and loving GOD. I want to love and encourage people, give people hope and if this can also be done in a medical setting. PRAISE GOD. I have an interview with the Dr. that offered me a job 14 mos. ago and has since called me 2 more times. I dont know if this is GOD leading me or my desire driving me, but so far it would seem GOD has paved the way, and I know it's big, but I have been studying the prayer of Jabez and asking GOD to expand my territory and I believe this is the start of a very exciting journey with HIM.....I am so very grateful for your blogs that really challenge me to look deep within myself at what really really matters in life......thank you so much. You are truly a light to so many. Audrey L.

  2. Dr. Dan, I so appreciate all your words of Christian wisdom and witness! My husband also has Stage IV Melanoma (not as advanced as yours at this point.). I blog nightly (did my 300th blog entry last night.) I have been looking around for some other blogs to learn more about Melanoma, IL-2, chemo drug studies, etc. and happened upon yours. I have shared some of what you are and have been going through with my husband. At times he will ask me about your blog. I had to smile about your closing remarks about the shoes in your picture. My husband also recently bought new shoes due to his old ones being worn out. He, too, stepped out on faith that he will be able to wear out his new pair!

    Thank you for your inspiring words. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Lois & Woody in TN

  3. Dr Dan and Linda,
    I thank you for taking me on this wonderful journey with you and your family. Thank you for your words that have inspired is all. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time. Thank you for your words of encouragement, they have made me take a deeper look at myself...I love you both so much....God bless you and your girls...

  4. It was great seeing you at Tab yesterday. :)

  5. Dear Dan, I often wonder if you can comprehend how God is using you to challenge so many faithful readers to a deeper walk with the Lord. Your insight into the challenges before you provoke me to long for and cultivate a richer relationship with our Lord and Savior. Praise Him for your ability to put all of this to pen and paper (okay, type and keyboard)and not just hide it in your heart. This is the Balm of Gilead speaking to our hearts through you and may the Spirit continue to use you selflessly for many months ahead. The gift of sharing your mind and heart like this can only be Spirit-led because of the fruit is bears. You and your family are so often in my prayers.
    With much love and admiration as you continue to walk in your new shoes.

  6. Dear Dr. Dan,

    This is Michelle Ripka, Debbie's daughter. My mom has been keeping me updated on your prognosis. I have been praying for you and your family throughout this journey. After reading the last 4-5 entries of your blog, I am saddened, yet lifted with how you are dealing with end of earthly life and awaiting heavenly life. You are an amazing Godly man! I wanted to share this with you and let you know what an impression you left me when I first met you in your Sunday School classroom. You and your beautiful wife were such a God-loving couple who were so friendly and willing to listen to my stories of being an Army Nurse. Your love for God and eachother seems to have only strengthened through all of this...I can feel it with every word you write.

    Thank you for being open and honest throughout this journey. I will continue to pray for strength for you and your family. If I don't get a chance to see you on this earth again, I look forward to seeing you someday in heaven.

    God Bless, Michelle