Thursday, May 27, 2010

A message from the Youth Group

Today I did something I don't normally do: When prepping for my youth lesson, instead of preparing an outline, I wrote the whole thing out. The delivery was lacking. It was obvious I was reading. When a friend of mine accused me of preaching a sermon purchased on the internet, I thought he was making a compliment, until he told me to try to get a refund.

Anyways, I thought I'd post it here since I went to the trouble of typing it out. It's based on Mark 6:45-52.

It seems that the gospel of Mark is always talking about storms. Jesus calms the storm in an earlier episode by rebuking the wind and waves. “Peace, be still!” he says, and then to us, his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

You'd think that the disciples would have gotten it by now. Shouldn't they? I mean, can you imagine the things that they have seen by this point? Jesus just fed 10,000 people with lunch for 5. He has cast out demons, healed the lame, sick, the blind, amassed a huge congregation of followers, taught with authority, and he has even calmed the sea before! But the disciples, the passage says, were astounded when Jesus once again came to their rescue, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. You've got to wonder... How dense are these men? How do they just not get it? Can't they see that this man Jesus whom they follow has a connection with supernatural powers, that he is indeed divine, the Son of God on earth, who rules over the sea and the waves, the fish and the birds, and truly all creation? Do you ever wonder what on earth is going through their heads?

I do. However, when I think about it, it does call to mind a certain pattern of behavior. What we see the disciples doing in this story is called doubting. They doubted that Jesus could send them across the water and give them the assurance of a safe completion of their journey.

Though, to some extent, who can blame them? When Jesus does come walking on the water to cross the lake, he sees them straining on the oars and intends to pass them by! Can you believe that? Does Jesus have no pity? When somebody passes through storms of life, as is the popular analogy from these types of stories, it is easy for us to question two things: the ability of God to rescue us, and the goodness of God to make Him willing.

But for Peter's sake, these are the disciples! They knew GOD in ways that nobody ever has or ever will! How could they doubt?

And so the temptation for us is to take away from stories like this that the disciples are such flakes in their faith, and Jesus is so patient with them. And indeed God is. But we must be careful in how we pass judgment on characters from Biblical stories. Are we so absolutely certain that if we were in their circumstances, that we undeniably would have done better? I think any careful examination of our lives will reveal not only that do we not, but in the storms of our lives we fair at least as bad as the disciples as far as the strength of our own faith goes.

I would advise that we be weary of approaching stories in the Bible in this way. They are not necessarily there just to teach us a moral lesson, though moral lessons do abound in the pages of scripture. Just remember the ancient Israelites. They abandon God and plunge headlong into idolatry seemingly every other generation. They are incapable of worshiping God faithfully long enough for God to take a nap. If we place ourselves in judgment upon them and say, “Aha, look! This is what happens when you serve other gods! Their unfaithfulness is duly punished!”, we run the risk of saying inwardly to ourselves, as indeed I foolishly did out loud one evening over a dinner conversation, “It makes no sense why God would call such an inconsistent people to be his own. Why the Jews? They couldn't serve him for five days without turning aside to a golden calf or something other. Why didn't he call us? Or me? If I had lived back then, I would have been so much more faithful to follow the one true God.”

Oh how we deceive ourselves. Don't sit there and pretend you've never thought something like that. This is the end result of approaching a Bible story for moral lessons: A righteousness from self. Is that enough to carry you through the trials you face?

What then shall we do with this story? We see the disciples struggling with their faith, and yet, if we are honest, we see ourselves in their shoes, amidst our own storms of life, struggling the same, and fairing no better. Do we question the goodness of God, or his ability to save us? Does Jesus seem to be passing you by? Do our problems seem like they are just too big for Him to handle? But ah, here is the true lesson of the story. The lesson is not for you to have more faith! Indeed, you and I are not capable of having faith at all! The Bible says quite clearly in Ephesians that FAITH is not of yourself, it is the gift of God! So what are we to do when we are “straining at the oars” of life to seemingly no avail?

And it here that the disciples get it right. When Jesus was about to pass them by, they were afraid! And so they cried out. Yes, that whimpering, forlorn wail of helplessness when they had come to the end of themselves. That is where they get it right. In this we see in the disciples one singular emotion, that of fear. Before we truly cry out to God, we have to lay down our macho facade, this mask we wear, more to fool ourselves than anyone else, that says we are capable of handling the trials in our life. And we all have them, whether we know it or not. To live is to suffer. Even when you are on your own personal mountaintop, it is suffering when compared to the eternal bliss of what awaits us in the eternity with Christ. And even when the sea seems calm in our lives we still have torrents of sin and impure hearts to deal with beneath the surface. How much better to be in the storm that Jesus sends you into than the calm we create by ourselves?

The knowledge that Jesus has sent you into whatever turbulence you are experiencing ought to be enough to still our souls. But when we find like the disciples, that our faith is not sufficient to the trial, and we can admit our fear and inability to save ourselves, then can we like the father of the demon possessed child, cry out to God, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”

And he does! When the two big questions hang over our shoulder like a giant elephant following us around, and we are paralyzed by our own lack of faith, we have only to remember. And that, my friends is the point of this story.

See the goodness and the greatness of God at work here. I grew up hearing “God is good, God is great.” I thought it was redundant. Isn’t “great” kind of another form of “goodest”? But I believe the phrase refers to the power of God, and his loving compassion. Though he sends his children through tests, he does care deeply for them. See how it says in the passage that he came towards them when he saw them struggling! Even now Jesus is coming towards you in your trials. He is seeking you in your pain. He speaks to us and says, “Take heart, it is I”. And He is indeed able to handle our trouble. By merely getting into the boat with His disciples the storm instantly ceases without even a word this time! He is indeed the master of the sea and the waves. The universe obeys his commands and bows to his will as he sovereignly rules over it.

Perhaps we ought to note the parallel between the time Jesus got into the boat, as a result of being cried out to, and the stillness of the sea. Indeed, for Jesus to be in your boat is to have calmness in our souls: To know Him as your savior who is all powerful and all good, is the essence of salvation itself, and faith is the boat through which we travel through that storm into peace. Do you desire more faith? Expect more storms to come as a blessing to teach you faith. Not that you have any ability to rise to the occasion. But as God allows us to see more clearly how incapable we are of saving ourselves, or even of managing our own lives decently well, we can cry out to Him. Out of His goodness and care for you He WILL come and get into the boat with you. And he will give you the faith you need to get through if you will just stop straining at the oars of life and just cry out to Him. All thanks and praise be to God who sees our suffering and comes to us across the impossible divide, walking on the water, to be our savior.

Your faith cannot save you. Jesus can.


  1. Christina LudwigJune 1, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    You are so right about faith being a gift of God. He is there in the midst of our pain and does comfort us and give us hope. It is a constant struggle to rely on Jesus when so often I try to save myself. Saving yourself does not work...even if you are determined and hard headed like me. That's why we need Jesus.

  2. Nalani Jolly

    I don't think that the message was bad or even poorly written. But it probably lost a lot in delivery when you were just reading it. Because when you have a piece of paper you are following diligently you are less apt to engage with an audience, which is something you do well. Sorry it was such a dud.