Calming the Storms

Storm on the sea

The outbreak of COVID-19 has put a lot of families under a lot of stress. With all the social distancing and quarantines, combined with illness and uncertainty with jobs, many people are very worried. We all should take as many precautions as we possibly can by heeding the advice of the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time, we need to remember that Jesus calmed storms.

Luke records a succession of powerful stories, full of Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness. Jesus forgave the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and hair in chapter 7. Then Luke highlights the women who accompanied Jesus, including “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2 ESV). Jesus had compassion on these women by healing them, and they gladly followed and provided for Jesus. Then Jesus talks about the importance of sowing seed to others, so that they hear and obey the word of God. He continues by telling a parable about putting a lamp on the stand instead of hiding it under a bed.

Immediately following, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ mother and brothers who came looking for him. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” Jesus replied. He’s driving the point home that doing the word of God is far superior to only hearing it. As God’s people, we are commanded to care for one another; to treat them with dignity and to rescue and nurture those who are suffering.

It’s no coincidence that the very next story Luke records is the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Clearly they were worn out, and Jesus himself fell asleep. Then a “windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23). The disciples rightfully cried out to Jesus, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebuked the storm and there was a calm. Jesus only asked one question of them: “Where is your faith?”

This succession in Luke should remind us of many things. First, Jesus’ whole life is about reaching into the lives of the oppressed, the poor, the widows, and those who are outcasts. Second, he calls us to follow and do the same. Planting seeds is great, but doing the word of God is better than only hearing it. And finally, following Jesus–and even being with Jesus–doesn’t prevent major storms from cropping up. They will happen. They will likely happen often. And this is all the more reason we need to put our faith in Jesus. It’s OK to cry out when we feel like we are perishing. Jesus doesn’t create storms; he calms them!

Photo by Alexander Marinescu on Unsplash

Faith Is a Verb

faith

If the Word is the diet part of our walk with God, faith is the exercise. Faith is not only something we “have,” it’s especially something we do. Saying we “have” faith is like saying we “have” exercise. It just doesn’t make sense. James asked, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). Our faith is something that is lived, not something that is sought. Saying, “I just need more faith” is like saying “I just need more exercise.”

It is assumed in the Bible that our faith is something done, not something that is received. By faith all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 obeyed. They went. The followed. They led. The helped. They ministered. There were the actions that resulted in living out their faith. If we are truly people of the faith, we are active every day. There’s not a day that passes where we are not actively living by faith. We must be calling people, visiting with the sick, sharing our time and money with the poor, and helping the orphans and widows in their distress.

The phrase “going to church” is about as helpful as “going to the gym” if all we do is sit and watch others work out. Our faith is the exercise portion of our daily regiment. James was right when he said, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

Photo by Alexander Redl on Unsplash

Our Heavenly Dwelling

Heaven

Last week we talked about our heavenly inheritance and how we need to be working. We get back what we put in. We cannot expect a free ride through life. But what will that heavenly inheritance look like? People who are not believers may poke fun and tell us that we believe in a mythical place that doesn’t exist. Or we believe in a mythical God who we can’t see. So how do we respond to that?

The reality is that none of us know what Heaven looks like. We don’t have a clue. And we should be OK with that answer. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this mean that we blindly believe that something better is waiting for us when we die? Not at all! Faith is not blind. We know that Heaven is real. God tells us that. We know that there are breathtaking places here on the earth–exotic landscapes that exude pristine beauty. Others who have been there can describe it, show pictures, etc., but it will not fully engage all of our senses until we have physically gone there. Those places here on earth are no less real just because we have not physically been there. They indeed exist. And they are incredible parts of God’s creation.

If we know this to be true on the earth, it is equally true for Heaven. Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:1, 5 ESV). God has been preparing our heavenly home since the beginning. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. But we have the Spirit as a guarantee. We know Heaven to be real and incredible and peaceful. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

Photo by Christian Nielsen on Unsplash

The Testing of Your Faith

wisdom

As we focus on the theme of wisdom this year, it’s appropriate to talk about struggles in the context of wisdom. Oftentimes, in the middle of our deepest struggles, wisdom is what carries us through. Wisdom allows us to see beyond the tragedy so that hope can emerge and come into deeper focus. Wisdom helps us make guided decisions so that we don’t remain in a permanent rut.

Without wisdom, we would never understand that trials can actually deepen our faith. They have the ability to refine us and make us stronger. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:2-4).

Most of us don’t have the first instinct to be joyful when trials hit. It is not our fist response. Our sight gets clouded by the agony of the pain. We often are dazed, shocked, and have to focus on just breathing. But it’s wisdom that helps us see the big picture. Wisdom tells us that there is a loving God who validates our suffering. Wisdom tells us that we can put one foot in front of the other and that each step is another movement forward.

But we also need to ask in faith. James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In all of our trials, we need to ask for more wisdom. Our faith will be tested. Our faith is tested. Let’s ask for wisdom as it is tested.

Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash

The Miracle of Togetherness

Friends in tree

What if we really applied the simplicity of the gospel to our lives? Go, make disciples (followers), baptize them, and teach them to do what Jesus commands. We overlook the simplicity of the first century church. Paul and his companions planted churches. A lot of them. Oftentimes they were in a town for 2-4 weeks before being driven out by angry mobs. Imagine. You have 2 weeks to establish a church and give them the tools that they need to launch and succeed. What do you teach them in 2 weeks? Unless the message and training are painfully simple, the church is doomed from its very inception. If we look at the message in its purity, here’s what we find: Stop worshiping idols, worship God and Jesus, repent from your sins, be kind to and love one another, bless others, repeat. Togetherness. Driven by one purpose.

The new Christians didn’t worry about where they would meet. Any place would make due. Literally. They met in homes, in chariots, on the edge of the lake, in synagogues, and in fields. In fact, remember how people were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26)? The church met in Antioch because of the persecution led, ironically, by Paul. It’s incredible that the very church that sent Paul and Barnabas off on their missionary journeys was the same church that fled Paul’s crusade to persecute Christians. And where did they meet? Below are pictures of their meeting place. The Antioch church that began because of persecution met in . . . . a cave! This is the very spot where those souls sang songs, prayed over, and sent off Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Mark, and the like! The facade was built later, but it’s believed that the chair and pulpit are original to the church. Imagine, Paul and Barnabas gave their reports from their missionary journeys at that very pulpit!
St. Peter's church

Chair

Pulpit

See, the Christians made due. They didn’t need a whole lot. Just devoted people, a place to gather, and belief. The rest is, as they say, history! In Acts 15, Christians were sent from this very cave down to Jerusalem to resolve a conflict. Jewish believers were telling non-Jewish Christians that, unless they were circumcised, they were going to hell. Paul, Barnabas, and “some others” were sent by the church in Antioch to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders. “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). Look again at that cave. Simple. Powerful. Effective. After meeting in Jerusalem, they brought a letter back up to this church in Antioch. It reads in its entirety,

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to your with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:22-29 ESV).

Brand new churches. Made up of pagans who had no Christian background. They were not given any further burden than to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from anything that was strangled (that still had blood in it), and from sexual immorality. And the church grew exponentially!

Many people are shifting back to simple church. The good news is that it’s working. Churches that practice simplicity and who are focused on mission are growing leaps and bounds faster than all of the best staffed churches who are program-heavy. There’s a miracle that accompanies togetherness and simplicity!