Friday, September 15, 2017

Fearing the Storm

It seems like a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't talk to me about the condition of the world. With the recent hurricanes and fires, people seem very nervous. I have to admit that I have my concerns. My business has been slower the last few weeks.

What I have noticed in the past few months, is that it seems like the people I have talked to who have been the most worried are Christians. I have gotten numerous e-mails from Christian people who are sure that doom and gloom are right around the corner. I can't believe that God wants us to live that way. 2 Thessalonians 3:16 says "may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way."

I do believe that we are living in the last chapter of Earth's history, but I am puzzled by many of my fellow Christians. Does God want us to worry?

I saw something the other day that puzzled me. I was in a Christian bookstore, and I saw that they had Christian worry stones for sale. According to tradition, a worry stone is a smooth, polished stone that when rubbed is believed to reduce one's worries and add a sense of calmness. When the stone is rubbed, the negative energy and worries are supposedly transferred into the stone and you are left calm and peaceful. I don't think worry stones are compatible with Christianity.

In Matthew 6:31 Jesus tells us "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?" He goes on to say "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own".

When our kids were little, my wife would sing to them when she was trying to get them to go to sleep.

“Rock, rock, rock, little boat on the sparkling sea, Rock, rock, rock, dear Jesus rides in thee; Rock, rock, rock, o’er the waters swiftly flee, For Jesus rides in the little boat on blue Galilee.”

While researching the Sea of Galilee, I found out that it is the lowest freshwater body of water in the world at 685 feet below sea level. It lies in the Jordan Rift, a fault zone with steep hills and mountains all around it. The Mediterranean Ocean is only 27 miles to the west.

Ocean winds funnel through passes of the hill country and down the steep hillsides. As the warm moist air rises from the Sea of Galilee, it collides with the dry, cool air from the mountain heights to the east and thunderstorms can develop over the sea.

The worst storms on the Sea of Galilee are caused when a low-pressure zone to the east causes the winds to blow down from the Golan Heights. The air compresses in the passes of the Trans-Jordan mountains and rushes down onto the Sea of Galilee which has a relatively small area of 64 square miles. The water is forced down, but has no place to go, so it pushes up into towering waves. A storm surge on the Sea of Galilee in March of 1992 sent ten-foot waves on the west side of the sea crashing into downtown Tiberias causing heavy damage to the shopping area and marina.

The Bible describes one of these severe storms on the Sea of Galilee in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story. The storm in the story was a serious storm that put anyone out on the sea in grave danger. But Jesus was the master of the storm. Ever since then, people facing all kinds of storms in their lives that that threaten to destroy them have found hope in Jesus because of this Bible story.

The story is found in Mark 4:35-41. “On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

The disciples are devout men of strong principle and have a hunger for God. They are sure they know who Jesus is. They take him on board "just as he is." To them, he is a teacher and story-teller, a miracle worker and an exhausted man. He is a celebrity, someone exciting to be around. It makes them feel good to be useful to him--to sail away with him from the crowd on the shore that envies their closeness to him.

They know the Sea of Galilee like the backs of their hands. They know what it takes to sail these waters. They are out for a nice cruise this evening, certain that they are in control. Suddenly their certainties are shredded along with their sail. The storm almost kills them. They are powerless, adrift, just one gust and one wave away from drowning.

Jesus is sound asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat, oblivious to the terrible storm that is overpowering them. The disciples wake him up in panic. "Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" It's an odd question. Determining his state of mind about their welfare seems the least of their concerns. Something more direct would be in order like, "Help!" or "Lord, save us!"

Jesus rouses himself and tells the wind to stop. He says to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" although he may be addressing the clamoring, terrified disciples as well. After all, it was his idea to cross the lake. They aren't going to drown on his watch, but they don't know that or trust him yet.

The wind stops, and the sea calms all in an instant. The disciples are surprised, but Jesus is disappointed. He had given them the amazing catch of fish when their best efforts had come up empty. They had seen him feed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two sardines. He had healed the sick and raised the dead.  But they are still focused on their needs, not on what Jesus can do.

Jesus wants our trust because our salvation depends on him and our trust connects us to his saving power.

Isaiah 12:2 (NRSV) “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Our salvation isn't a personal achievement. It is a gift of God, and we have to trust that even, and especially, in the midst of the storm God will save us.

The disciples are finding out that there is a lot more to their "Teacher" than good stories and food distribution. He has faced down the worst storm that they have ever experienced, and they are stunned. They have only one question now, and it is the right one -- "Who then is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?"

Having seen his power in action, the men are now more afraid of Jesus than they were afraid of the storm. "They feared exceedingly," is the way the Bible puts it in Mark 4:41. Phobos is the Greek word that Mark's Gospel uses for how the men when the witnessed Jesus calming the waves. Phobos is the root word of "phobia," an abnormal, intense, illogical fear. It is a pathological terror devastating them to the core of their very being. At that moment, they realized that Jesus was more than just a good luck charm. They thought that when Jesus was with them, surely there wouldn’t be any storms. But when they witnessed the actual power that Jesus had over the storm, they were afraid of His power.

You have to experience this for yourself to be sure, but it is the moment of conversion when you become more afraid of Jesus than the storm that threatens to destroy you. Jesus doesn't mince words on this: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

We have a lot of sweet illusions about Jesus. He tells us to cross the sea. He comes to us just as we are and climbs in your boat just as he is. We sail out with the other boats. We're proud to be in his company--Jesus and us sailing off together into the sunset and he's picked our boat, not theirs! "It doesn't get any better than this--we're taking Jesus for a ride," we think. We even pride ourselves that we've got everything under control so Jesus can sleep.

Then the wind changes and blows up a storm so severe that it robs us of rational thought. The waves turn rough and hit us again and again and then recoil and crash into us from the other direction with no let-up. Our carefully constructed little vessel begins to break up and take on water. "Hello, we're sinking here," we think. "We're dying!"

We wonder, "How can he be our sailing buddy when he is asleep in the back of the boat while we are bailing hard and not keeping up?" We call out in desperation, even anger, "Teacher, don't you care that I'm drowning?"

I know that I feel that way at times. When I am going through tough times, I wonder why God is allowing these things to happen. Sometimes I feel like David in Psalms 13:1,”How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” And in Psalms 10:1 David wrote, “why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?”

Often when we are going through tough times, others no longer seem as supportive or as friendly, an abandoned feeling leads us into the downward spiral of thinking: No one cares for me! Like David, we may then conclude: God has also abandoned me!

I have found that there’s little said or written in Christian literature about helping believers who feel abandoned by God. Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” The dying French atheist Voltaire said, “I am abandoned by God and man.”
We aren’t surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would shake their heads, and wonder whether we are true Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about your problems?”

Jesus has promised that He will calm the storm. We forget that Jesus told us the destination and said that we would go across together. It's our perception, not his reality that has us scared, but he'll hold us and make the bad thing go away like a mother holds and comforts her child who is crying after a nightmare.

Jesus does what is necessary, but he asks hard questions --"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who then is this?" we ask, wrestling with our egos. We want to think that we are in control. If we could only know the details of how, when, where, and why, we could control the outcome.
You may think it's enough to have Jesus in your boat, but are wondering why you are still wet and cold and your boat is sinking? "Don't you care?" you ask Jesus. "Why are you afraid?" he asks you back.

It is only later when the adrenaline subsides, and your body stops quivering that you realize that Jesus does care because the storm is gone, you are alive, and he made the difference. Paul says that "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus! (Phil 4:7). Jesus is our peace.

It isn't the boat that you are in that is going to save you. It is the Christ Jesus in you that makes all the difference.

Put yourself in the story. Do you require a clear sky and a calm sea before you venture out at Jesus' call? Are you putting your hope in a bigger boat or a water-tight hull of your own construction? Are you setting your course by the weather reports or by trusting your instincts to read the signs in the sky? Is Jesus disappointing you because your little boat seems to be sinking and he doesn't seem to care? Do you fear the storm more than you believe Jesus' instruction to cross the sea? Think about these questions because the story of Jesus calming the storm isn't about safe answers. It's a story about questions.

"Teacher, don't you care that we are perishing?" "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" We need the answers to these questions.

Christianity is built on faith and trust in Jesus. I want to close with a story about one of the greatest tightrope-walkers of all time. His name was Blondin. He became obsessed with the idea of crossing Niagara Falls the first time he saw them in 1858. A year after his initial visit, he returned to accomplish the feat. The stunt was not without controversy. Many people felt that a stunt like Blondin's would trivialize the falls, turning them into a backdrop for a circus act, and should not be allowed.

Eventually, Blondin was allowed to string his wire across the falls and on June 30, 1859, he was the first man ever to cross Niagara Falls by tightrope. A large crowd of 100,000 people watched him walk on a single three-inch rope, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the falls on one side and 270 feet at the other.

Blondin made many more trips across the gorge during the next year. Each time, he thrilled larger crowds with more exciting acts. He balanced a chair on the rope and stood on it. He took pictures of the crowd while he balanced on the rope. He cooked a meal on a small portable cooker and lowered it to amazed passengers on the Maid of the Mist below. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, on stilts, and pushing a wheel barrow.

In 1860 a Royal party from Britain that included the Prince of Wales saw Blondin cross the tightrope on stilts and again blindfolded. After that, he stopped halfway across and cooked and ate an omelet. Next, he wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other and returned with a sack of potatoes in it. Then Blondin approached the Royal party. He asked the Prince of Wales, "Do you believe I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes, I do," said the Prince. "Hop in, then," replied Blondin. Well, the Prince declined Blondin's challenge. He might have believed Blondin could do it, but he wasn't about to trust him with his life.

When it comes to our relationship with God, this kind of trust doesn't do much good. God doesn't want us to say "Yes Lord I believe in you, but not enough to put my life in your hands." Belief has to come with trust. Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Is there a difference between trust and belief? The Prince of Wales believed that Blondin could walk a man across the rope in a wheelbarrow, but he didn't trust him enough to get in. Do you believe in God? Do you trust him with your life? Trust God with all your heart. Trust Him through the storms of your life and don’t be afraid.

Thank you to Kent Hansen and his e-mail subscription service, A Word of Grace for Your Monday. This article borrows from the 9/11/17 e-mail. If you would like to subscribe to Kent's e-mails, click here.

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