Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding Jesus in the Storm

John 6:15-21

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren said, “… Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.” The reason for this? God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ-likeness. In our text today, Jesus has just finished a long day of ministry; of teaching amidst the press of immense crowds, and the Lord was now exhausted. So as the day drew to a close, Jesus, having obtained a boat to cross the lake, commanded His disciples to enter the boat and cross to the other side. In obedience to his command they hoisted the sail and began the five mile trip across the lake. Very unexpectedly and seemingly without warning, they were in the midst of a terrible storm. Matthew uses the word like literally an earthquake, to describe the storm.
This was no ordinary breeze blowing - this was a hurricane! Luke writes here that the storm was so bad that the ship was full of water. Mark wrote in his account of this story that the waves were beating the ship that it was full of water. Matthew in his account said that the waves covered the ship.

So, you see that this was one serious storm that was going on. They had a crisis on their hands. The ship was full of water, the waves were as high as the boat and they felt that they were headed for the bottom of the sea. As we sit in our comfortable homes, it is easy to think good thoughts about the world outside.

But you know how life is; there can be and probably will be darker, more difficult days than this.
This story in the life of Jesus and His disciples, in the boat upon the sea, conveys that other world, a world where storms rise up out of nowhere and life itself is put at peril.
If you have had something happen in your life that shook you to your very core, then you understand what I am talking about.
When those storms come the once-calm lake of life becomes a storm-tossed, angry, and raging sea. That is what this story is about.

When the physician comes back with a bad report or when you are startled in the night by a late telephone call and the voice on the other end says, “I am afraid I have some bad news!”
Then the waves begin to beat and the boat seems as if it is sinking and you wonder “Where Is Jesus When Storms Come?”
In answer to that question I want to share with you three truths about the storms of life from this biblical story! The whole point of the story and of the parable is that storms happen. The truth is that no one gets through life without experiencing storms, no one! In fact most lives contain more than one storm that threatens our sense of well-being. Storms come in many forms:

The storm of illness – sudden or prolonged.
The storm of death – death of someone you love.
The storm of rejection – separation or divorce.
The storm of unjust criticism.
The storm of family problems.
The storms on the job.

An analysis of the storms in our lives reveals that:
Sometimes they are brought on by our own stupidity or our sin.
Sometimes they are caused by our own poor decisions.
Sometimes they may be caused by the actions of someone else.
Sometimes times they just seem to happen and we have no idea why.

Not only do storms come as a part of every life but, secondly, storms come even in the center of God’s will.
Are you in a storm right now? You may be thinking to yourself, “Lord, what have I done to deserve this?” It may be that you have not done anything wrong!

Perhaps you thought or have even been taught that life would be smooth sailing with Jesus in your life. You thought with Jesus in your life, there would be no storm, no unmanageable waves and certainly no cause for fear.

But the problem is that is just not true. And if you have lived very long, you know that it is not true based on your own experience.

Perhaps you thought, “Then there must be something wrong with me!” The truth is that Jesus does not teach this or promise this. Even when believers follow Christ’s bidding, they may face hardships.

For example, Jesus’ disciples were doing God’s will when they took Him across the lake, for he had commanded them to do so. Yet they were buffeted by a dreadful tempest, and they seemed to be in danger of drowning.

You can be in a storm and be right in the center of God’s will. Notice that the disciples were in the midst of a storm not because they had disobeyed, but because they had obeyed.

In Matthew’s account of this story (Matt 14:22) he tell us that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat.”
The word “made” (or “constrained” in the KJV) means “compelled.” In other words the disciples were where they were, in the middle of a storm, in direct obedience to a command of the Lord.
But how can that be?
Even though the disciples had no way of knowing it, during those terrible moments,
The storm was divinely appointed vehicle to teach them about God and his power in their lives.
Without difficulties, without trials, without stresses and even failures, we would never grow to be what the Lord wants us to become.

Without adversity, we would be insufferably self-centered, one-dimensional, proud and empty people. Faith must be tested before it can be trusted.
James tells us the purpose of trials is to test and deepen our faith. James 1:2-4, tells us .
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
The Message Bible says it this way;
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Third, storms are not a sign of the absence of the Lord.

( John 6:16-21)
His disciples went down to the sea (17) got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. (18) Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.

Perhaps to the disciples, the fact that the Lord was not with them seemed to indicate that he was either unconcerned or unaware of their plight. Does Jesus know? Does He care? We sometimes mistakenly conclude that we are alone, that no one, not even God, knows what is happening in our lives and how we are feeling. Isn’t it true that we feel like that at times?
When we are in the midst of a crisis of one form or another it sometimes seems that Jesus doesn’t care, He just does not seem to be interested or concerned with what we are going through. Dazed, the disciples looked around trying to understand what was happening.

Jesus Sees. Where was Jesus at this time? On the mountain! Storms do not escape the Savior’s notice. As Jesus sat on the mountainside over-looking the sea, He saw His disciples laboring frantically in the storm tossed waters. He saw not only their physical battle with the elements but He also saw their inner battle with fear. He had not forgotten them. He was not too busily engaged in prayer to think of them. Jesus was lovingly looking on. He knew what they were up against, and He was watching. But He did not make things easy for them and He does not make things easy for us. He let’s us row our own boat and fight our own battles but he is always aware of what we are going through.

Jesus Cares. Beyond the fact that Jesus saw what His disciples were going through He also cared deeply about what they were going through. His compassion caused Him to come to where they were and reassure them. As Jesus sat on the mountainside He could see His disciples toiling and rowing helplessly, yet He delayed coming to them. He knew their thoughts, he even knew they were wondering where He was and why He chose to let the storm batter them for a while. Finally, He did come to them. But why did He delay? We of course cannot say for sure but we see a similar occasion in John 11: This is the story of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Lazarus was sick and his sisters sent for Jesus but Jesus delayed and allowed him to die. When He finally came Lazarus’ sisters pleaded with Jesus, Lord if you had been here this would not have happened. (John 11:21)
When the Lord delays coming to us, it is always for a greater purpose to be worked out in our lives. God's delays are not God’s Denials! But as we have already seen, God has never promised our lives would be empty of pain, disappointment, or storms. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not teaching the truth of the Bible. What God does promise are resources to journey through the raging waters. Soaked and no doubt shivering, terrified to the core, the men had strained to keep the boat headed into the wind. They just knew that the next wave would take them to the bottom.

Faith was being paralyzed by fear. They were afraid that all of them, would die. They were of course, wrong, but so are we when we panic during difficult times. In reality their problem was not the storm around them but the unbelief within them.

Jesus Comes. (6:19-21)“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. (20) But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (21) Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. Jesus came to His disciples during the darkest part of the night, when the disciples were exhausted, miserable and tired, and wondering if they were going to survive or not! Jesus did not come to them until they until they had done all they could. Until they were exhausted. Until They were willing to accept Him into the boat.

Only then did the Lord come. We should also reflect that Jesus comes to us in ways we do not expect. When the disciples were tossed about on that boat there is little doubt that some of them thought, ‘If only Jesus were with us!’ That would be just what was needed. He would find some way of seeing them through. But when he came in a way that they did not expect, and instead of welcoming his appearance they were frightened. And is that not sometimes our experience as well. One thing is certain: The Christian way is full of surprises, and Christ constantly comes to us in ways that we do not anticipate.

Leon Morris said.”Unless we welcome him, however he comes, our spiritual experience will always be the poorer.”
You may know the Lord but you will never know him deeply until He has come to you in middle of one of the storms of life. In the lives of the disciple’s the absence or presence of faith was revealed in the traumas of life. So it is with us as well. It is the storms of life that our faith is revealed. It is the crises of life which reveals our faith. It is at such times that we face a three-fold challenge, to worry, to work or to trust. When difficulties come we can choose to worry, but we all know deep down that changes nothing. When faced with adversity we can try harder and harder until we see that there is nothing more we can do and we are forced to conclude that it is absolutely out of our control; or we can call to the Lord and ask for His help. Peter invites us in (1 Peter 5:7) “Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking of you and watching everything that concerns you.” (The Living Bible).
Jesus longs for us to put our trust in Him – the only One who can take us through the storm - not around, not over, but through.
People say, “God doesn’t care about me, he doesn’t care that I am going through such a hard time, he doesn’t care.” But that is just not true.

Are you going through a storm in you life right now? If so, then understand this, He sees what you are going through. You can believe that.

I want to close with the words of a song by Annie Flint:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

( This verse I had never heard)
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

II Corinthians 12:9 And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Preparing for What is Ahead

Romans 8:31-39

Some weeks ago a major storm hit the Gulf Coast. Do you remember seeing on the news how people were preparing for the storm? Boarding up windows and doing everything possible to be able to weather the storm.

I have seen couples go through lots of things in life when they have needed something to hold on to . They never dreamed they would ever face such a crisis, but when it happened, they found they had already developed the strength to weather it.

My wonderful mother-in-law lay in the hospital for a least seven weeks fighting for her life. I saw her and my father-in-law stand the storm because they had prepared before the storm hit.

My wife’s brother and his wife went through a storm that took her life and he now has suffered for a few years with an unexplained sickness. I have watched and prayed for him but he never given up on God because his faith in God was anchored deep.

Now what about us, here today?
Most of us will probably never experience the enormity of the crisis that these couples faced.
But still, there will be storms, heartaches, decisions, and gut-wrenching moments that have the potential for bringing us into a life-changing crisis. The storm that is facing our nation is going to be a big one. If things go sour and our nation drifts further away from Godliness then what?
What will we do then? Will we be prepared to face it? Will we have the inner resources that we need? And if not, then how can we prepare ourselves for that day?I’m convinced that if we want to have the resources we’ll need for a time of crisis, then each of us must make our preparations for that day.

Here are a few things that will help:

I. Be sure of your relationship with God. Do you know what it means to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ the Lord of Lords? Have you received Him as Lord and Saviour of your life?

The Bible gives us some vivid examples:
Abraham walked with God and was called “a friend of God.”
Noah walked with God and when the flood came, he and his family were saved.
Moses walked with God in the desert, and God prepared him to lead his people to freedom.

David walked with God as a shepherd boy, and when called upon to rule his people, he was prepared for the task.
Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, and his friends were spared from the fiery furnace.

But God does not always pull His children out of the fire. Stephen was a young man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" [Acts 6:5] when he was stoned to death. But his entry into Heaven was triumphal. Look at the fate of some of the apostles:

Peter was crucified upside down.
Andrew was tied to a cross with thick ropes for 3 days before he died.
John was a prisoner on a desolate island.
Bartholomew was beaten & then beheaded.
Thomas was murdered while he was preaching.

These men literally walked with God, and they suffered. But with their lives they echoed the words of Paul:
2 Tim 4:7-8 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing"
Although we were not present with them nearly 2,000 years ago, we have access to the same strength they had. And as we walk with our Lord, and come to know Him better day by day, we too, can say with them: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" [Philippians 1:21].

II. Open your Bible and use it as a guide for your life.

Secondly, we need to open our Bible and use it as a guide for our daily life. But today there are more people who know the words to TV commercials than any words in the Bible!

Russell Morse, one of the great missionaries along the China/Burma border, was taken captive by Chinese communists in 1951, and imprisoned for 21 months. They told him that his wife and youngest son had been killed. For 15 of those months he was in an isolation cell, cut off from any outside contact. They broke his glasses and shoved him into that cramped cell without his Bible or any other book. Twice a day a bowl of food was pushed through a slot in his cell door, but he never saw a face or heard a human voice. Cut off from all human contact, unsure whether anyone in the outside world even knew that he was still alive or where he was, he later said that he would have surely gone insane if he had not been able to recall Bible verses and hymns that he had memorized over the years. That was all that kept his mind active.People have said that when they were suffering, sometimes they could only remember small parts of Scripture. One woman repeated over and over again, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" [Philippians 4:13]. I wonder, what verses have you stored up for the future? The Bible is one our greatest tools and yet all some use it for is a dust collector!

III. Make prayer a vital part of your life. Thirdly, even before the storms begin we need to make prayer a vital part of our life. We have talked about the importance of prayer before, but it seems as if we often pray during a crisis and neglect it the rest of the time.

We find our nation embroiled in a war – a war against terrorism, a war against elusive enemies who deliberately target civilians to underscore their hatred of our nation and the principles of freedom that we enjoy. If ever we needed to call upon the power of prayer, I believe that it is now!

There is a story in the Bible about prayer being used against a wicked ruler. This was an Assyrian king, (much like Ben Laden), who boasted that he would defeat God’s people and take over their land. He sent messages to Israel, taunting the people about their weakness and boasting of his strength. When this king spoke, the world trembled! Israel’s king, Hezekiah, was a man of faith. He knew that on a purely human level, the Assyrians could destroy them. But Hezekiah had a secret weapon. He called the prophet Isaiah in, and they fell to their knees in prayer. And look what happened! Lets look at 2 Chron 32:7-9 and read what King Hezekiah said to the people.

“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”

Then look at what God did: II Chronicles 32:21-22 says, "And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he, the king of the Assyria, withdrew to his own land in disgrace. . . So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem. . . He took care of them on every side."
B. But it is not just in times of war that we need to pray.

We have so many other battles going on in America today. We, the people of our nation, have allowed God and anything to do with God to be taken away from us by our government.

Our government needs prayer. (Never has our nation been so divided!)
Our leaders need our prayers. (Without God leaders will fail.)
Our schools need our prayers. (Our teachers have an uphill battle.)
Our youth need our prayers. (They are the future of our nation.)
Our families need our prayers. (A family that prays together will stay together.)
And our churches need our prayers. (That we will lift up Jesus.)

Today our nation, and the church, are facing the undisguised hatred of militant Muslims who proclaim a gospel of death, a religion that through the centuries has been spread by the sword, and even today maintains its power by the sword.By the way, did you know that 30 years ago there was only one Muslim mosque in the United States, and today there are over 3,000 mosques? And that new mosques are being built here at the average of one a week? The apostle Paul warns us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Are we spiritually prepared as individuals, as a nation, as a church? If we are to survive in a Godless and materialistic world, in a world increasingly witnessing the hatred of militant Muslims, we must repent of our prayerlessness, and make prayer a priority. Even churches today have gotten away from prayer. Food and fellowship gatherings seem to have taken precedence. Miracles have happened when God’s people turned to Him in prayer. We should not pray for God to be on our side, but pray that we are on God’s side. Remember, God does not promise always to deliver us, but He will be with us.

IV. Finally, we must practice the presence of Christ. How do we experience the nearness of our Lord? Do we need a picture drawn by some artist to be able to imagine Him with us?

Charles Spurgeon once said that there had never been 15 minutes in his life when he did not sense the presence of Christ. I wish I could make that statement, but I cannot. What strength we would have if we trained for life as if Christ were walking alongside of us.

The best selling book, “In His Steps,” tells of a challenge given by a preacher to his congregation to pledge for one year not to do anything without first asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" This challenge was provoked when a tramp, mourning his wife who had died in poverty, stumbled into this wealthy church and addressed the congregation. He said, "I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,

‘All for Jesus, all for Jesus;
All my being’s ransomed powers;
All my thoughts and all my doings,
All my days and all my hours.’

"I began wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by that. It seems to me there’s a lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out."

If that tramp had spoken to us, how would we have responded? Do we live our lives with the thought, "What would Jesus do?" Do we practice the presence of Christ every day?
In the story, the tramp died, but he struck the conscience of the congregation so profoundly that the lives of many were changed, just as our lives would change if we truly followed "in His steps" and asked, "What does Jesus want me to do?"

Rather than asking the question "What Would Jesus Do?," a better question for most people to ask themselves would be: "What Would Jesus Have ME Do?"

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." John 6:28-29

Christ promised His disciples: Matt 28:20, "And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age"

What a wonderful promise! We need to cultivate the sense of His presence as we go about the daily routine of our lives. And we need to remember the words of our scripture.

Romans 8:31-39.
“If God be for us, who can be against us?” Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So what about it? Are you preparing for the storms of life, or will you be caught without the resources you need?

The best way to prepare is :
To make sure that you know God, and that Jesus Christ is your Savior;
To treasure His word in your heart;
To make prayer a vital part of your life; and
To practice His presence daily in your life.

The words to an old but great song comes to mind! Written by Priscilla Owens:
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life.
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain.

Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul,

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll!
Fastened to the rock which cannot move.

Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.