Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver a sermon on one of my favorite Bible passages: Mark 4:35-41. This portion of scripture recounts Jesus’ stilling of the storm. I find this section of God’s word particularly impactful because of the question someone in the boat asks of Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” That is a question that each one of us has asked (or will ask) whoever we understand to be our Supreme Being when our lives are on the brink of shipwreck. When we come to the end of ourselves, when our brains and our brawn have been exhausted, we all want to know if God will be there to deliver us from danger.
From the very beginning of their voyage, everyone in the boat knew Jesus’ command – “Let us go over to the other side.” Their problem was that they lacked a full understanding of who was resting in the boat with them; they failed to recognize that the man who fell asleep amid the rising swells was God the Son. They did not recognize that the one who directed the disciples to cross the sea would not lie or be denied. They were unable to comprehend that, no matter how strong the storm (and even if the boat was sunk), they would make it through the wind and waves safe to the other side. They were going to survive those frightening hours because God keeps His promises. We, too, will survive the storm.
This inability to recognize Jesus as anything more than a teacher, an expert in the Law of God, is the crux of this account. It has always fascinated me that the disciples, at least four of whom had years of nautical experience as fishermen, would wake the resting Rabbi for assistance. Perhaps this question of concern was founded in their thought that a “man of God” was blessed by God and His prayers would avail much. Maybe they remembered His miraculous power expressed in healing and deliverance, thinking that maybe He could act miraculously again. The point is, someone in that boat thought that Jesus was special and wondered if He could save them. We, too, have times when we wonder if Jesus can save us.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
Why did Jesus calm the sea? He did not still the waves to assure safe passage; that would have happened anyway. He did not rebuke the wind to demonstrate His power over the natural order; they already knew He could do that. He did all this to bring peace to the hearts of twelve frightened grown men; He showed that He cared for them, not just their circumstances. The danger in reading passages like this that it can lead us to assume that God will always tame the troubles that terrify us. That would miss the point that Jesus came to tame our fear, not simply take them away.
We all have anxious moment when we wonder if God cares, or even know, about us. Here is a reminder that He does. He cares enough to weather the storms with us and still the storms within us.
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day and, thanks to my father’s recent genetic profile from ancestry.com, I will be celebrating the holy day with the newfound knowledge that I am 2% Irish. There is much to commend Maewyn Succat (thought to be Patrick’s name at birth) to all believers: he was born into a religious family, with his grandfather serving as a priest; he suffered great adversity, having been kidnapped by pirates at age 16 and then living as a slave in Ireland for 6 years; he was miraculously rescued by God, to whom he had been praying fervently for deliverance, when he was told in a dream that his ship had arrived and then walked more than 200 miles to set sail; upon reaching England, far from home, he survived starvation when a wild boar wandered into his camp; at age 40, God told him in a dream to return to Ireland with the Gospel and build His church. He gives us all a testimony of what God can do through a person committed to trusting in the Lord.
There are a number of the interesting truths about Patrick’s life. First, he rejected the beliefs of his family for many years, but the great difficulties of his early life drew him to God with a fervent faith. Second, he was not the first missionary to Ireland, as he succeeded another man who had come to Ireland five years before he returned to the island. Third, one of the Patrick’s first converts from Druidism to Christianity was Milchu, the tribal chieftain who served as his master more than 20 years earlier. Patrick was used by God in mighty ways and He utilized every aspect of Patrick’s life (both blessings and burdens) to glorify the Lord.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Saint Patrick reminds me that anyone can do great things through God. Anyone can endure a horrible past when they trust in Him. Anyone can show the power of forgiveness when they know the forgiveness of God. Anyone can mightily share their faith when they have experienced the grace of the Lord. Saint Patrick reminds me that nothing is impossible with God – He is able to reach anyone through anyone by any means. So, whether you are in the ideal location or the worst place imaginable, among the most wonderful people or the dregs of society, confident in your abilities or concerned about your inabilities, know that God can still be glorified through you.
Perhaps you will enjoy a bit of green lager or some corned beef and cabbage today. Maybe you will wear green or kiss someone who is Irish. Wherever and however the day finds you, I pray that we all remember the witness of a special man who God used to reach ‘the ends of the earth’ over 1,600 years ago. And I hope in remembering his story we are reminded of our story as well. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
For three years my family lived above a lovely couple, Vin and Anna. For three years I worried about the noise and disturbances that six pairs of feet can make. For three years I asked my children to stop stomping up and down the stairs and jumping around the living room. For three years I was anxious about the impact that we were having on those who lived around us, thinking that we were too loud, too disruptive or too rambunctious for condo living. As it turns out, for three years I had nothing to worry about.
As it turns out, we were not too disruptive, too loud or too rambunctious. My wife, Jeanine, ran into Anna at the grocery store the other day and eventually the conversation turned to the new owners of our prior residence. Anna related that the only time she heard us was when the family went down the stairs in the morning. Anna added that we were at our loudest on Sunday morning when we all went to church (the silver lining to that comment for me was that she knew we went to church as a family every Sunday; the silver lining to that comment for her was that she knew we had gone to church and she knew she would have serene sleep for the next three hours). So, I worried about something that was not an issue – Anna told Jeanine that she missed hearing the kids.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
Maybe it is not concerns over excessive noise from the family’s footfalls on the neighbors ceiling, but I’m sure it is something. We all worry. Some worry about health issues and others worry about finances. Some worry about what the future holds and others worry about what could be revealed about our past. Some worry about their kids and others worry about their parents (and some worry about both). At some point, our thoughts get the better of us all and we become anxious over some aspect of life that is beyond our ability to control. The Bible says worry is not the answer.
Throughout the Scripture we are given narratives which prove that the antidote to worry is trust in the Almighty. Abraham didn’t worry about his son’s future and instead trusted that the Lord would provide a lamb. David didn’t worry about his ability to complete the task and instead trusted in the Lord to defeat Goliath. Three Israelite boys didn’t worry about dying in the fiery furnace and instead trusted in the Lord to deliver them. Jesus reminded us that we ought not worry about what we would eat or what we’d wear and instead trust that His Father would supply what we lack. And if these accounts are not sufficient, read about Noah, Moses, Elijah, Peter and Paul. Don’t worry, believe.
I realize that all this is easier (for me, at least) to say than to do. But I am going to trust God to provide, defeat, deliver and supply. I am going to follow His leading in communicating my fears and frustrations with Him and with others. I am going to let Him handle the details while I simply focus on Him. And I do my best to refrain from making faces or erupting emotionally when my 8-year-old is clomping down the hallway. Lord, help my unbelief!
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
By the time this is posted, my family and I will have moved the eight-tenth of a mile to our new apartment. By the time this is posted, my family will have eaten our first meal and slept our first night in our new home. By the time this is posted, the stress and nausea I have had for the last two weeks will have begun to subside…I hope. I am writing these words on Tuesday afternoon, will load the truck (the reservation on which, praise the Lord, was confirmed this morning) tomorrow and unload the truck on Thursday, Lord willing.
As I conclude the process of moving, I am struck by the following observations:
- In the task of packing, the three things I discovered we had the most of were clothes, photographs and loose change. I can understand the clothing (with 6 people and 4 seasons you gather a great deal of sweaters) and the photos (since you never want to throw a single one out); but the change was surprising (we seem to have found coins on every floor, drawer and flat surface); sometimes moving is important to discover the small treasures you never realized you had.
- We did not devote enough time to go through everything. We calculated in our minds how long it would take to go through memory boxes, school papers, the stuff that breeds in the backs of closets and kitchen cabinets and we ran out of days before we ran out of duties. This made me realize two things: that we (personally and as a culture) keep way too much stuff, and that we all need to move every decade or so to realize all the wonderful things we have in the backs of closets (or in attics, garages, sheds, cellars or storage units); sometimes we need to remember how vast God’s blessings really are.
- I will never use the phrase, “Let Go and Let God” ever again – because I know I’d be a hypocrite if I uttered it. Moving has revealed to me that I worry about too many things – will the truck be available, will the truck be big enough, will the kids like the new place, will the furniture fit up the stairs, will the truck fit down the small streets of Dorchester (especially with the contractor’s dumpster in the street and the pickup always parked across from it), and what will happen if we forget or break or lose something we need? God is always faithful and yet I am often fretful; sometimes we need to be out of control to remember Who really is.
By the time this is posted all will be settled and all the things that we’ve sorted, packed, recycled and worried about will have been resolved. Thank you all who prayed for us and assisted us throughout this process…moving also reminds you of all the good people God has surrounded you with.
I just thought of one more thing: I hope I got the truck back in time and they didn’t charge me an extra day!
A few days ago I received the following text messages (all at 9:48am) from one of my children:
“can you buy me (a particular band’s concert) tickets at (a particular website) at 10 please”
“I will die”
What strikes me about this ‘conversation’ is my child’s overwhelming dread over an unsatisfied need. It was as if my phone was telling me that if I was unable to procure these ducats my child will cease to exist. As it turned out, I was, in fact, unable to procure these ducats and my child did NOT cease to exist. Can you imagine, though, my child’s emotional state in that moment, feverishly spelling out her dire need?
If you are anything like me, I am sure you can relate to my child’s plight because we, too, have been filled with dread over the possibility that a dire need (like concert tickets on a school night) might remain unsatisfied. I ‘need’ things all the time and I regularly text my father, I mean pray to my heavenly Father, to meet those needs: I need more money, more time, more people at church, more patience, more wisdom, more things. Sometimes I even think that something awful will happen if I cannot get what I ask.
“If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” Matthew 6:30
The above verse is taken from a larger lesson Jesus gave as part of his Sermon on the Mount. He is teaching his followers about the futility of worry and the working of faith. He has already asked, rhetorically, if anyone has been able to add to his lifespan even an hour through worry. He has said that God meets all the needs of things as insignificant as birds and grasses and then asked the question quoted above. He calls them – and could also call me – ‘you of little faith’. When we fret over what we have yet to get we show ourselves to have a faith deficiency.
The solution to our ‘little faith’ existence begins with God. He is sovereign (meaning He rules over all things) and exercises His sovereignty to express, among many other wonderful attributes, His providence (a fancy word of Latin derivation meaning foresight). In other words God has control and power over all of creation and utilizes everything to provide everything He knows, from the beginning of all time, we will need. Since this is true, if we haven’t got it today, it is because God knows we have no need of it today. God will provide when we truly need it.
A few words after he chides his followers for having ‘little faith’, Jesus reminds them that their heavenly Father knew what they needed. God knows what you and I need, too. He knows better than we do what we cannot live without. He knows and He has promised to provide those things, whatever they may be, to all those who seek His kingdom and His righteousness. So, even though we may think that we will die if we cannot get what we ‘need’, the truth is that the Author of Life will supply it when He knows we need it. I guess I need to stop worrying so much.