Still Dreaming

 

Inn sunset 2017

Inn at Spanish Head sunset (Oregon Coast).

Spending a week on the Oregon Coast is a great time to unpack my dreams and aspirations. I take them out, letting them soak in the sun’s rays while they reflect back to me periodic glints, like the winking of God’s eye. Holding each one gently, I brush away the dust of passing years and daily survival.

 

I then examine each one closely, looking for cracks and fading. Some are so old and faded that they are fragile and brittle; ready to break apart in my hands. These are the ones that have been with me since childhood or early adulthood; still unrealized, but also still beating with a little life, as fleeting as it may be.

Some dreams are newer and some are more practical. For instance, I still dream of writing the great American novel, but realistically I write more about theology, daily living and urban adventure riding; not great fodder for penning The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. Other dreams are almost defeatist being more fraught with worry than dreaming.

This last category I desire to leave behind me, but they always somehow find their way back into my suitcase of dreams. The others, however, I still hold onto. If they’re God-inspired than actual realization may come in my lifetime. Ones that aren’t God-inspired are probably more ego-driven; these I hope turn brittle and become dust in the wind.

Still a Dreamer…

But the point is I’m still a dreamer. Dreams keep me looking toward and striving after the horizon. They help to inspire me to try new things, like seeking a Doctorate degree even in my fifties. They help me step into the unknown, to truly take those steps of faith, not knowing where they’ll lead.

Sure I’d “like to dance across the mountains on the moon,” but more realistically and closer to my heart I want to teach sound theology to willing students and congregants. I want to commute more places on my bike. I want to juice more. And I want my spine to stop hurting.

So as the clock of time ticks on, I’m slowly being faced with deciding which dreams are worth hanging onto and which are not. Yes, I stopped dreaming of being a rock star in my twenties when I realized my talent didn’t even rise to sitting-around-the-campfire level much less selling out stadiums; but I still dream of being able to play guitar well enough to sing worship songs without embarrassing myself or my family. I have other dreams to, of course, some much loftier and some much simpler.

But what kills dreaming is fear. So, as I slog through life I pray for help vanquishing the fear. The fear of failure which paralyzes me from even trying; fear of looking foolish when I do try; and fear of pursuing the wrong thing. Wisdom is good, but fear is not.

Dream on

I guess for me dreaming is okay provided I don’t get lost in them and stop living in the present. But how many dreamers are there in this life? I know few; at least few have ever shared their dreams with me.

But to all of us dreamers out there I say: pray on; and, of course, dream on!

 

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Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

More Thoughts: The Bodily Resurrection

Fleming Rutledge states that, “The preaching of the cross is an announcement of a living reality that continues to transform human existence and human destiny more than two thousand years after it originally occurred”[1]. I completely agree because the cross leads to the resurrection.

Sadly, however, it seems that large segments of Christianity do not.

Recently, I heard a startling statistic that over 40% of professing Christians in a prominent European country did not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. How can this be? Are churches actually teaching this to their congregants? If so, I find this highly disturbing and theologically irresponsible.

If the resurrection did not happen, then why did Jesus ask Mary of Magdalene not to cling to Him; after all, you can’t cling to a thought or a spirit, but you can cling to a physical body (cf. John 20:17). Or what about the record of Jesus inviting Thomas the twin to touch the nail prints in His hands and to put his hand into the gash in His side so that seeing and touching he could believe (cf. John 20:27). And finally, what about His expression of “Peace to you” followed by His patient response to the disciples’ fear of Him by saying:

“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:36-39, emphasis mine).

The resurrection did happen and it was a physical resurrection. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead; He even testified to it Himself.

Another thought for consideration is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the Apostle Paul regarding salvation found in Romans 10:9:

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The word ‘Him’ is the Greek word αύτόϛ (autos) and it means: him.  We would use this word something like this: “Go ask him.” Most likely, when we say that, we’re pointing to: him. We’re not pointing to an ideal or a thought or a spirit; we’re pointing to a human being, a human being in their totality, their total being. Thus, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was the totality of Jesus; not an essence of Jesus or some ethereal vapor of Jesus, it was the total Jesus, body and all. So, Paul’s statement takes on salvific significance because he is indicating a faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying believe in an idea about resurrection; he is testifying to the totality of Jesus being resurrected. That is, he is testifying to the physical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach resurrection Sunday, let’s do so with complete confidence that when we trade traditional expressions of “He is risen,” followed by “He is risen indeed;” we are talking about the totality of Jesus—He is completely raised from the dead in complete victory over death, the satanic realm and even over false teachers of flimsy theology.

The resurrection is also the intersection of history; without the resurrection, there is no salvation; but with the resurrection, lives are not only saved from eternal death, but are being transformed into the likeness of Christ even now (Romans 6:5, Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 2:9).

[1] The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, Kindle location 213. I highly recommend this book. It is very readable yet highly profound.

Thoughts on Holy Week

“It is finished,” said the broken, bruised and battered man; struggling to lift his bloodied body holyweekfor quick gasps of air. Then He died. The horrible result of Roman crucifixion had claimed another victim. But this was no ordinary victim; this was “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This, of course, was (and still is) Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

He had entered Jerusalem with celebration, the laying down of palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). Not even a week later, the same people were crying out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him” (John 19:15).  

Fickle lot, we humans.

Hopefully you know the story, but even if you don’t, after three days and nights in the tomb, Jesus, much to the astonishment of not just humanity but the satanic realm as well, rose from the dead. Yes, I believe whole-heartedly in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not some sick, psychological fantasy to appease grieving souls; the body was not stolen; nor is it some figure of speech. Jesus was tortured, crucified, buried three days and three nights, and, yes, rose from the dead. This same Jesus, God in the flesh, that entered humanity as an unborn baby in the womb of a young virgin allowed Himself to be mercilessly treated, even to point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

But why?

Simply stated, because of the sin of humanity and the abject rebellion of humanity against God. Only a perfect atoning sacrifice would suffice. Nothing is more perfect than God. Therefore, God entered humanity in an astonishing way and exited His earthly life in an equally astonishing way: by being executed by the humanity He came to save.

Easter Sunday, perhaps more accurately referred to as Resurrection Sunday, is the acknowledgement of this miraculous resurrection event. The world of darkness celebrated the death of Jesus because it felt that this salvation business expressed by Jesus in the famous John 3:16 (and other places as well, of course) was now laid to rest. As the old adage goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Salvation and hope was now a tale silenced in the dank and dark coldness of a sealed tomb; a sealed tomb under guard by Roman soldiers no less.

But brutal beatings resulting in death, sealed tombs, dank darkness and several feet of solid bedrock could not keep Jesus in the grave. At the right time, He broke loose from the shackles of death. At this very moment, Jesus showed His power over even death. Weather, physical laws and demonic strongholds could not withstand Jesus (Mark chapters 4-6), and now even death was firmly trampled under His feet. He had conquered the grave, proving that even all of hell couldn’t stop Him. He is, was, and will forever be King of kings and Lord of lords, the Captain of our salvation (Revelation 17:14 & Hebrews 2:10.

Eternity Awaits!

And we can partake of His eternal victory by simply expressing faith in Jesus by confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9)! This isn’t just good news, it is great news with eternal results. If you haven’t confessed Jesus yet, I invite you to do so and become a part of His kingdom both now and forever more. If you have confessed Jesus, how will you approach this time known as Holy Week? I ask, because I’m asking myself the same thing: what will I do to draw even closer to Jesus? What will I do to better understand the significance of His sacrifice on my behalf, a broken and sinful man?

I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. But what I do know now, is that when I think deeply about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, I tear up and become speechless. Maybe you do to.

“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.

Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.

The Great Calm

Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:

The Great Calm

A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.

This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.  When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms.  Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.

Fight Familiarity

Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.

Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.

No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.

Finally, they awoke Jesus.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).

Great…Calm

There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm.  The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.

Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.

Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.

The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.

And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:

He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.

There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.