I once was leading a group session as a counselor at an adolescent treatment facility. There were about a dozen kids in the group. We were outside on a deck between two buildings. There were two brothers in the group – 16, 17 years old. One of them had been in the facility for several months, the other only a few days. They got into some kind of argument and it escalated until it was disrupting the group. I went over to them and told them to cut it out. The newer one kept it going. I stepped up to him, face to face, but not really in his face, and told him I needed him to settle down so we could continue the group. He went into an aggressive stance – clenched fists, staring me down. He was about my height but 20-30 pounds heavier, 20-30 pounds of solid muscle. I started thinking, “He’s going to hit me, and it’s going to hurt.”
But, you see, he needed to know some things. He needed to know that he was not running things; he was not in charge and he was not going to be in charge and that was okay. He also needed to know that there was a better way to handle life than what he was exhibiting that day and what he had learned – fighting, stealing, assaulting, vandalizing, running away. And he needed to know that I and the rest of the treatment program staff cared about him enough to respect him, to challenge him, and to help him.
To my great relief, he did not hit me. He calmed down and after group apologized for his behavior, and I thanked him for his cooperation. Several months later, when he was being moved to another facility, he hugged me, thanked me, and said he was scared. He would not have made that admission that day in group. I told him I understood how he felt but I knew he could make it because he had made changes and was headed in the right direction.
If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, you need to understand those same things about Christ’s relationship with you. You are not in charge; you are not running life, yours or anyone else’s. He is – not just will be – Lord. When you have faith in Christ, you are embedded in his Kingdom living under his authority. That doesn’t mean that he micromanages everything or that everything which happens is his will. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have any freedom or responsibility. But he is in charge and that is okay; in fact, it is very, very good.
And you need to understand that his way of living is better than your way of living. He gives life that is abundant. That doesn’t mean that he merely blesses you with good things and good feelings. As you trust him and learn from him, you can accept and follow new desires, new dreams, new priorities, new behaviors that come from Christ.
And you need to understand that everything he wants for you and everything he does for you is because he loves you. That doesn’t mean he merely pats you on the head and gives you an encouraging word. He cares about you enough to challenge you when you need it. He cares about you enough to carry you when you need it. And he cares about you enough to enable you yourself to love others like he does. His love is available to fill you and to overflow from you and energize all you do.
You can make it, headed in the right direction, by learning to trust Jesus Christ.
It’s Springtime. Balmy temperatures, pleasant breezes, gentle showers, budding flowers. Nice. But wait – that’s not the whole picture, is it? Just ask the folks in Texas about gentle showers. Or ask people in the plains about pleasant breezes. And today (June 1) is the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. Springtime can be brutal. One day, it’s awakening and refreshing and new life. The next day, it’s fear and destruction and death. Let’s call it what it really is – Stormtime.
I’m talking about the weather because in the 4th chapter of Mark there’s a story about a storm which I believe addresses all kinds of storms that we experience. Storms don’t come just with wind and rain and hail and lightning. They also come with layoffs and betrayals and diseases and assaults and crimes and sins – all kinds of elements produce all kinds of storms — a brutal life. So, let’s see what we can get out of this story in Mark 4 for our “stormtimes.” The first part, verses 35-38.
On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
It had been a long and tiring day. A huge mass of people had come to listen to Jesus teach. There were so many people that Jesus had to get in this boat a little ways from the shore line so he wouldn’t be crowded in. This horde of people seemed eager to hear what he had to say, so Jesus taught, but at the end of the day he and his men wanted to get away, they needed a break from all these people. They needed things to calm down, quiet down. They needed some down time. So they all got in the boat and rowed across the lake. So relaxing. Everything’s good, everything’s fine. Being with Jesus – so tranquil – balmy temperatures, pleasant breezes, gentle showers, budding flowers. Springtime with God.
It gets brutal. Stormtime. The clouds build. Thunder rumbles. Lightning streaks and crackles. Rain pelts. The wind picks up and the waves get bigger… bigger… bigger. Washing in and out, in and out of the boat. Finally it seems they’re not going to make it – the boat’s going to sink and they’re all going to drown.
Time for somebody to do something about the weather. Somebody who has an inside track to God – maybe he can get them out of this. Where is he anyway?
Sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat. Silent and inactive. They wake him up. “Don’t you care if we drown?” Is it nothing to you that we’re in this deadly storm? Doesn’t it matter to you what’s happening to us?
Stormtime and the one they think cares about them isn’t doing anything about it.
Have you ever been in that boat? A lot of people have. Lost a job. Lost a house. Lost a child. One woman, Anne Donovan, delivered a stillborn baby. She said, “Those things I had relied on – modern science, women’s intuition, God’s mercy – had failed, and I had nothing to hold on to.”
So many different storms. Car accidents. Diseases. Mental illness. David Weiss has schizophrenia, and he wrote an article for Christianity Today Magazine. He has taken the usual psychotropic drugs and been administered electroconvulsive therapy, all with little benefit. In the article he wrote, “Of course, whether we suffer alone or with others, the question “Why?” will never be answered, at least in this lifetime. Who knows why God allows pain? Who knows why God sometimes seems to leave us alone?” (5/2/11, “God of the Schizophrenic”)
Yeah, sometimes God seems to leave us alone. Silent and inactive. Even when the storm is so personally deep and damaging. In his book “Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God,” Brennan Manning tells his story:
Sitting on a curbstone along General Meyer Avenue in New Orleans. I am intoxicated after a relapse with alcohol. My clothes are in tatters; I reek with rancid body odor; I am unshaven. My face and belly are bloated, my eyes blood shot. I am clutching a fifth of Smirnoff vodka – only a few ounces left. My marriage is collapsing, my friends are near despair, and my honor is broken. My brain is scrambled, my mind a junkyard of broken promises, failed dreams, unkept resolutions. Fifty yards behind me is the detox center of F. Edward Herbert hospital. As I take the last swig I shudder at the pain and heartache I have caused. Going to AA meetings, working the 12 steps, talking to my sponsor, reading the Big Book, praying – these have all worked for others. Why have they not worked for me? I know I will never hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Staggering down four blocks, I find a convenience store. I buy a pint of vodka. I retrace my steps, weaving across the avenue to reclaim my seat on the curb. I do not want the lifesaving treatment of detox. I continue drinking. My eyes fill with tears. Now I am crying, Abba’s drunken child. “Jesus, where are you?” (p46-47)
Sleeping on a cushion? In so many of our storms, that’s what the objective evidence seems to indicate. He is silent and inactive. That’s what those disciples were feeling and it felt like Jesus didn’t care about them.
Let’s see what happened after they woke him up. Verses 39-41.
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Awakened from peaceful slumber, Jesus did two things: commanded the storm and questioned the disciples.
When he commanded the storm to calm down, it did. The wind stopped blowing and the waves stopped billowing. Jesus showed his authority over stormtime. Here is his greatness. Here is his power. Here is his ability. Here’s what he can do. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
This happened pretty early in Jesus’ ministry – it’s only chapter 4. A lot of what he was doing was to show who he is. Look back in chapter 1:23-27, notice the similarities with this storm story.
Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”
Jesus commanded the evil spirit to be quiet and he commanded the wind to be quiet. “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” “Even the wind and the sea obey him.” The people ask, “What is this?” then the disciples ask, “Who is this?” What is happening; who is this man in our synagogue and in our boat? The evil spirit already knew and eventually the disciples understood – this is “the Holy One of God.” This is the Son of God. And Hebrews 1:3 explains, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Jesus Christ is Lord.
Whatever storm is raging, whether it’s evil spirits or howling winds, Jesus has authority over them. And every other kind of storm. Whether you’re being abused or you’re abusing drugs. Whether the bank is taking your house or cancer is taking your spouse. Whether your worst enemy attacked you or your best friend betrayed you. Whether the IRS wants more or your loved one doesn’t want you anymore. Whatever storm is raging, Jesus has authority over it. He is Lord. He has the power to calm the storm.
So, when the furious squall was swamping the boat, why was Jesus in the stern, sleeping on a cushion? Why didn’t he prevent the storm from starting or stop it before it got so bad? Or why didn’t he help try to row to shore or at least encourage his men: “Row, row, row; go, go, go; you can do it!” Why was he sleeping?
The short answer is, “I don’t know.” I wish I had a “thus says the Lord” to answer that. I wish I could say “read such and such verse and we’ll have the answer.” I can’t do that. One of the most helpful verses to me is what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:9 – “For we know in part and we prophesy in part…” We only know part and we can only say part of what’s going on with God. He hasn’t told us everything. He hasn’t told us why he was sleeping in the boat or why he seems silent and inactive during our storms.
I did think of something that helps me and maybe it will help you. Think about it this way – when something bad has happened and you’re worried and confused, and maybe scared, how well do you sleep? A few people don’t have difficulty, but most of us have trouble sleeping when something bad has happened or when we think something bad is going to happen. You lay in bed, mind racing – imagining the worst, trying to figure it out – rolling back and forth, turning the pillow over, getting up till you feel sleepy then going back to bed and waking up again. We can’t sleep well when we are worried. Could it be that Jesus was sleeping because he wasn’t worried? Could it be that he wasn’t afraid of what might happen? He was at peace. Because why? Maybe he was just trusting his Father? Maybe he was resting, not just on a cushion, but in the security of his Father’s will and presence? And that was bigger and stronger and more life-shaping than the wind and waves.
And so here’s the second thing Jesus did – questioned his disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Why are you so worried, you still don’t trust me?
When it’s stormy, it’s so natural to watch the storm. And what we see – the turmoil and trouble and chaos – influences and shapes our feelings and thoughts. I think Jesus is saying “don’t look at the storm, look at me – I can sleep during this; I’m not afraid, I’m not worried, I’m not giving up; trust me; I’m in the boat with you.”
Jesus never promised no storms. He promised to be with you. He promised to be in your boat. And somehow that’s enough. It’s enough to know the Holy One of God is here, going through the storms with us. It’s enough to know that he’s not afraid that he’s going to get swamped and buried, because he’s already been swamped and buried on the cross and now he is risen and reigning, and he’s with us. He doesn’t ask us to control the storms; he asks us to just trust him. And that’s enough.
When the place where I worked was forced to close down, I was talking with the site director about going through that storm; we talked about not knowing what is going to happen but trusting God through it and she said, “And that gives me peace.” The Lord is at peace and he’s in our boat and we can trust him and we have peace; we’re okay. And as we rest, trusting in him, we find out more about who this is and what is happening.
David Weiss, the schizophrenic who wrote the magazine article, finished it with this:
“Though my illness persists, I have finally met the God I had heard about but never truly experienced. A God who heals. A God who loves. A God I cannot logically explain to my psychiatrist. A God who manifests his genius by salvaging good from the evil in our lives. Someone unlike me. Someone unlike the well-meaning inquisitors who judged me and sought to spiritually cure me. Someone I never would have discovered without my affliction. A God who calls himself Emmanuel—God with us.
A furious squall comes up. You’re getting hammered. It looks like and feels like you’re going under. But, the Holy One of God is in your boat. Christ the Lord is with you. He’s not afraid or worried. Trust him. Trust what he says to you. Trust what he does around you. Trust his plan for you, not your own or someone else’s. Trust his ability to use the storm for good, to help you know him better and even to make you a little more like him. Trust his commands. Trust his power. Trust his care, his mercy, and his love. When it’s stormtime, trust him.
(“Christ Asleep in His Boat” by Jules Joseph Meynier)
You’ve heard the term “radicalized Muslim” being used to describe people who have joined terrorist groups such as ISIS. It refers to a person who was living a basically peaceful and harmless existence then was convinced somehow to adopt a terrorist mindset and join a jihadist group or commit acts of terror on their own. […]