(Next LFC gathering: 6:00 to 8:00pm at Plantation Park- 875 Davis Pond Blvd, 32259 – on Sunday, September 8. We’ve reserved the pavilion. Bring some picnic food to share.)
“Do you know God?” Someone once asked Soren Kierkegard that question. He was a well known philosopher and a theologian and the father of Christian Existentialism. Ask a smart guy a simple question, and may get more than you bargain for. His answer: “Do I know God? No, I cannot say that I know God. I’m coming to know him, and so are you.” So, what did he prove? Well, he proved he could annoy people who ask questions. He proved semantics were important to him. But he also made a good point. There’s always more to God than we realize.
If storms bring a gift, it is the opportunity to discover there’s more to God than we knew before. Do we trust him? Will he stay with us? Is he really greater than the storm? Does he keep his promises? Many people simply pray that the storms will stay away. And they may. But God sometimes decides it’s better for us to go through it. I don’t like that. You may not like it either. But I’ve learned that God isn’t deterred by our preferences for safety. And that’s not just my experience. It’s biblical.
There’s a story in the gospels about Jesus calming a storm. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story. Look up Luke 8:22-25 if you want to read it for yourself. The story begins when Jesus says to his disciples: “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they get in the boat and start crossing the lake. Jesus falls asleep. And a squall comes and the boat starts to sink.
The disciples knew Jesus pretty well at this point. They’d been with him for a while. They heard him teach crowds, seen him heal, and even bore witness as he raised the dead. What more did they need to learn?
So in the middle of the storm, the great men of faith, the twelve apostles, hand picked by Jesus himself wake him up in a panic: “Master, do you care that we are about to drown!?!”
Jesus wakes up, looks around, and speaks to the storm. “Be still,” he says, and everything gets still. The raging sea gets flat calm. (Mark notes that it happened “immediately”). And Jesus says, “Where is your faith?”
The disciples who a moment earlier were afraid of the storm are suddenly fearfully amazed at the guy in the boat. “Who is this who commands wind and water, and they obey?” Who is this guy whom storms obey?
And don’t miss this point Who is it who led them into the storm? Who said, “let’s go.”
Jesus led them right into a storm just to reveal more about who he was.
And do you think they needed to know him like that? Do you think their experience with Jesus in a storm was beneficial for the life on mission Jesus had in mind for them? Every one of his disciples would opposition, threat, rejection, and persecution. But they knew Jesus was greater than any storm.
Where I sit today, we’re staring at a really big storm – the 2nd largest Atlantic hurricane in the record book is coming near. In the next couple of days, we’ll either be very relieved that it stayed a out at sea or very busy hunkering down in the middle of the wind and rain. All of the spaghetti models show it missing or glancing by the First Coast, but a direct hit is not yet ruled out. Mandatory evacuations are on, even though the predictions suggest we’ll be spared the worst.
Our neighbors in the Bahamas got the worst this storm has to offer: 185 mph sustained winds, a 23 foot storm surge, and a relentlessly slow crawl across the country. 36 hours of devastating wind! Oh my! Lord, please sustain, relieve, and be present with my brothers and sisters in our neighboring island nation! They face a long, dark storm.
Let me share three truths about Jesus and the storms we face:
Truth #1: Storms come. Expect them. There is no safe path to follow to avoid them. Some people adopt the Christian faith thinking it is a way to avoid the stormy troubles of the world. But storms come even to people who twist theology to avoid them. Back when I worked as a hospital chaplain, I was told that, on average, a tragedy or hardship will strikes the typical family once every four years. A death, a divorce, a bankruptcy, a job loss, a foreclosure, a child in trouble, a medical crisis, mental crisis, dashed hopes, dashed dreams, shattering disappointments, disillusionment – they come our way and they come to the people we love. And it may just be that Jesus, in his great love for you, will send you right smack into one storm after another. Sometimes storms come in waves. Storm follows storm. Learn to welcome them. There is grace is available to us if we can learn to do so. Storms reveal far more to us about ourselves than the easy times. More importantly, we learn something about who Jesus really is in a storm. Our false impressions of Jesus, the ones that so need to fall away – the safe, good-luck-charm Jesus, the nice Jesus, the health and wealth Jesus – all that trifling emptiness melts – thank God! Thank God that the false Jesus melts away as the real Jesus, Lord in and over the storms is revealed so that with the disciples, we ask in fear and amazement, “Who is this?”
Truth #2: Jesus is present in the storm – but it’s easy to forget that he’s there. In fact, he will let us struggle in that storm on our own for a long time. But here’s where grace is available to us. In storms, we learn that Jesus is faithful. He doesn’t send us in to storms to leave us or to harm us. He is with us. He is with us.
Truth #3: Jesus is not concerned about the storms. He’s greater than any storm you have faced, may face, or are facing right now. For that matter, he will send us into storms so that we can learn how much we need him. Oh, and he sends storms our way when we think we are safe. He’ll send a storm that washes away our self-confidence, makes us uncomfortable, scares us near to death. What are those things in your life that you depend on, count on, trust in? Jesus will often strategically give us challenges right in those areas – because he is Lord. We quickly learn to trust God. And here’s where we find grace. Jesus, who is not concerned about storms IS concerned about you in your storm. If he put you there, he has a purpose for you there.
Jesus is not easy to follow. Following Jesus scares the daylights out of me, sometimes. He has led me into a number of situations I feared. Some of those storms would have made the list of my greatest fears at one time. I have learned that he’s very comfortable in those places. In hindsight, I am very grateful for them.
How about you? Has Jesus been with you in scary storms? What did he show you there about himself, about you, and about your relationship? I am convinced that if storms bring any gift, it is the opportunity to discover there’s more to God than we knew before. So now it’s your turn to answer the question. Do you know God?
Whatever storm you are facing, may you recognize the presence of the Lord with you in this storm. May you know the Lord who is over every storm better next week than you do this week, and better still in the seasons that follow. And may the Lord work through this storm shape you to be who he desires you to be!
Side note from this story: Jesus seemed to arrange things so the disciples didn’t have to go through this experience alone. He piled them all into a boat. We weren’t created to endure storms alone. I could tell you tragic story after tragic story of people who decided to follow Jesus by themselves. It doesn’t go well. Don’t do it. Make sure others are in “your boat”. We were created, not just for fellowship with Jesus, but also with other disciples. There is much grace, comfort, and strength to be discovered in going through storms in community. Do you think the disciples ever reminded one another of that night. “Don’t you remember when the storm came up on the Lake! Don’t you remember what Jesus did that night!” Who do you have with you in your boat? If you don’t have anyone, may the Lord lead you into fellowship with others who follow him, and may the Lord give you courage to enter into that fellowship!
Along those lines, if you’d like, next Sunday night some of us are getting together, and you are invited and welcome. Presumably, the storm will have passed and we will be sharing a picnic at Plantation Park Pavilion (875 Davis Pond Blvd, 32259). Come, share your experience of getting through the storm. We’ll taking some of the time to worship the Lord who is greater than the storm!