Is The Easy Way The Best Way?

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As you may know I recently made a big change in my life.  I left my position as pastor of a rural church in southern Missouri and relocated to Oahu to plant a church.  The change is difficult, but it is most difficult on my 9 year old son, Caleb.  Caleb was only three when I began my ministry at First Baptist Church of Birch Tree, MO.  His first friends are there.  He was quite comfortable there.  He was a top student at the school and was surrounded by familiarity.  Then, everything changed for him.  We moved here.

Here, they do not know him as a top student.  His school is just over 7 times larger than his old one.  He is just one more student until he can prove otherwise.  The way they do things is different and he is trying to learn a lot of new methods and rules.  He does not know anyone.  Nobody knows him.  And according to one of his complaints, “they don’t even play kickball here.”

The first week of school was marked in our home with tears, imaginary stomach aches, anger, and defiance.  This was not the way for me to start a day.  Seeing my son struggle was enough for me to wonder if I had made the right decision to come here.  I am resolved to face the struggles of church planting in a different culture, but I begged God to make this easy on my son.  My biggest fear is that his difficulties would lead to resentment and there would be one more angry preacher’s kid in the world.  Then something happened.

Our prayer partners came through in droves to pray for Caleb.  We shared the emails with him and he really liked that so many people thought his struggle was worth praying for.  We also began to pray with Caleb before going to school.  Suddenly, things began to look up for Caleb.  He made a few friends, he figured out the rigid homework system, and his class did in fact play kickball.  One tearless morning we mounted our bicycles for the ride to the school.  “Wait,” he shouted.  “Aren’t we going to pray?”  Right there in the middle of our street, my son wanted us to stop and pray before he went to school.  I thought about that all day.

What I have realized is this.  The answer to my prayers is not that things got better for Caleb.  They did, but that does not make life easy for him.  The answer turned out to be that Caleb learned a little about relying on God.  The difficulty that I feared so much that he would face has actually strengthened him.  I have to learn something.  I have to understand that God loves my son even more than his mother and I do.  God knows what my son needs and He knows what is best.  He will give what is best even if that looks like struggle here on Earth.  God will give him that because of what it can make him.

Knowing this, why would I pray that God would make it easy on him?  Why would I pray for it to be easy on me.  Easy is not always best, and I want what is best.


Do Not Fear, Believe

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ImageI recently read the book and then watched the movie, Moneyball.  Its the true story of how the poorest team in baseball managed to have the winningest record in baseball including a 20 game winning streak.  We love stories like that.  We love to see the underdog prove everyone wrong.  We love to see all of our doubts shattered so that we can truly believe that things happen beyond everything we can know.

Many times, we hope for that when we read the Gospels.  We read over and over again accounts of Jesus having power and authority over the natural world, the supernatural world; over everything.  It seems too good to be true.  We want it to be true, but it goes against what we know.  It goes against our common sense.

Can Jesus really give me peace?  Does he really have the power to conquer anything that threatens me?  Can He really heal?  Can He really raise the dead?  Many can follow Jesus as a teacher, a role model, even a religious figure, but truly believing in Him is difficult.

40 So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. 41 And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. 43 Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any,”  (Luke 8:40-43)

When Jesus returns, a crowd is waiting for him.  But in this crowd, there are two people.  One is Jarius.  He is a ruler at the local synagogue.  Jarius has a daughter who is sick and dying.  Jarius begs Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter.  Jesus went when the man asked him to come.

The other person in the crowd is a little woman who has been sick for twelve years.  She has spent her life savings on doctors, but no one has ever been able to help.  This woman believes that if she can so much as just touch the edge of Jesus’ clothes, then she will be healed.

44 came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.“(Luke 8:44)

Since this woman had this particular sickness, she would have been considered unclean.  For twelve years, she has had to live outside of Jewish society.  She has not been welcome at the temple.  She has not been welcome in social and religious gatherings.  She probably thinks she has absolutely no business speaking to a great rabbi, and if He really were the Messiah, He would not have any business with her.  Yet, she hopes that if she can just touch the edge of his clothes, maybe she will be healed.

She pushes her way through the crowd, and reaches out just to touch, and she does.  Suddenly, she is healed

45 And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?”

When all denied it, Peter and those with him[f] said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

46 But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.” 47 Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.

48 And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”” (Luke 8:45-48)

She is healed, but at that moment, Jesus stops and asks, “Who touched me?”  What a question.  Everyone is confused, because the crowd has been pushing and shoving and everyone has touched Him.  Jesus knows every touch in a crowd.  He knows when someone is reaching out to Him.  This woman knows that He is talking about her.  She must be terrified.  She has been found out!  She gets on the ground in front of Him.  She knows this was not the proper way to seek the Messiah but it worked.  She explains what happened.  He doesn’t condemn her.  He doesn’t reject her.  He calls her “daughter” as though she belonged to Him and tells her that her faith has made her well.  Jesus offers healing, peace, and a place as one of His own

49 While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, “Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher.”

50 But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” 51 When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl..” (Luke 8:49-51)

Suddenly, the tone changes.  Yes this woman has been healed, but they took too long.  They didn’t get to the little girl in time and word comes that she is dead.  Yet, still, Jesus says to believe that she will be well.  Jesus said to believe instead of fear.

52 Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” 53 And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.

54 But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” 55 Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. ” (Luke 8:52-55)

So they go to the house.  The crowd has to stay behind as only a few go in.  Everyone is already mourning, as is common when someone dies.  Jesus tells everyone not to cry because she is only sleeping.  Everyone laughs at this.  That’s crazy!  But Jesus goes to the child, tells her to arise, and she does.  Yes, Jesus can give life to the dead.

56 And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.” (Luke 8:56)

In a sharp contrast to “Go and peace” to the woman and “Go and tell” to the demon possessed man, Jesus tells the amazed parents, “Don’t tell anyone.”  Jesus doesn’t send the one’s that don’t have faith.

There were many reactions in this story to Jesus and his ability to heal.  One woman believed completely and received healing, peace, and a place as one of His own.  Jarius reacts with half-hearted belief.  Jesus may be able to heal the sick, but raise the dead?  Even when it happens before his eyes, he can hardly believe it.  Still others did not believe at all.  When Jesus says the girl is not really dead, the crowd of people laugh in disbelief.  The fact is that Jesus is willing and able to do what He says he will do, but we struggle to believe.  It goes against what we think we know.  It goes against what we call common sense.  We struggle to put our faith in Jesus completely.  Like the woman, we want His healing and peace.  We want to be called “son” or “daughter.”  Like Jarius, we may even seek Him to see if he can help, but we only half heartedly think He can.  Sometimes we are like the crowd.  We think we know what really is, and the whole idea of Jesus being able to raise the dead is laughable.

You must believe that the Lord Jesus is willing and able to bring you healing and peace.  The sick woman did and she found so much more than healing.  She found peace; she found a place as one of His own.  Jarius half-heartedly believed.  He believed that maybe Jesus could help his daughter before it was too late.  To Jarius, there were limits as to what Jesus could do.  He could do great things.  He could probably help, but there were limits.  To the crowd, the idea that Jesus could raise the dead was laughable.

What if Jarius had believed like the woman.  What if those with him would have believed.  Certainly no one would have said “don’t bother.”  More would have reached out to touch Him.  More would be around Him, seeking Him in everything.

What if you believed that the Lord Jesus is willing and able to bring youhealing, peace, and make you one of His own?  We all have those limits.  We all have a line where we will follow Jesus only so far, or maybe not at all.  But if we truly believed, those lines would disappear.  Nothing would hold us back and in the end, we would be His, and we would find healing and peace.

Faith in the Storm

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One of the scariest movies of all time is Jaws. When making the movie, they did not expect that. Yet, unknown to the filmmakers, they were tapping in to one of our innate fears. The idea of being in a great big ocean with an unknown predator that could attack at any moment played on our very real fear of the unknown. To make matters worse, the filmmakers accidentally emphasized this fear when the mechanical shark failed and they filmed most of the shark attack scenes with no shark. The audience was left with not being able to see what it was it feared the most.

In a crucial scene this fear is discussed. There is a scene where Sheriff Brody, Hooper the oceanographer, and Quint the grizzly old shark hunter are on Quint’s boat. They are drinking and singing and it is funny, then Quint tells a scary story from his past. He says that he was on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a real-life ship that was sunk in World War II and saw many of its sailors eaten alive by sharks. In the movie, Quint talks about that fear as they floated in the water, not knowing who would be next. He ends the dialogue by saying that he will never again wear a life jacket. In other words, he would rather die than to face that unknown fear ever again.

Thankfully, we don’t deal with shark attacks. But we do all face circumstances that are beyond our control. They threaten everything we hold dear: our life, our jobs, our health, our loved ones; they cause a lot of fear in our lives.

Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing! (Luke 8:22-24a NKJV)

Jesus and His disciples are going to cross the sea of Galilee in a small boat. This is not generally the plan in Galilee. Boats are great for going out and fishing, but you want to stay close enough to the shore to get out quickly. The sea of Galilee is about 600 feet below sea level and around are hills and mountains. In the hills and mountains, cool dry air begins coming down. On the sea, warm, moist air rises up, creating the chance for some very sudden severe storms. For this reason, a fisherman would keep his boat close enough to be able to get to shore in time should a storm arise.

However, Jesus says to go across, so they do. The fisherman in the group had to be wondering if this is such a good idea. These boats were not large, and crossing could become dangerous in a storm.

As it turns out, that is exactly what happened. They get out in the middle and suddenly they are facing a storm. The waves are getting big, the wind makes it impossible to control the ship, and they are filling with water fast. All while Jesus sleeps, so they wake him up and point out the obvious: We are all going to die!

Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:24b-25a NKJV)

Now something completely unexpected happens. Jesus gets up, tells the storm to stop, and it stops! Then He simply asks, “where is your faith.” A simple question with some profound implications. (We’ll get back to that)

And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25b NKJV)

Now they are afraid again; not because they were scolded, but because Jesus can apparently control the wind and the water.

Twice in this short passage, the disciples were afraid. Once they were afraid because they thought they would die in the storm. Then they were afraid because Jesus could make the storm go away. Put yourself in their shoes. It would be easy to be afraid.

There you are, taking a trip that you know is not safe. That’s enough to make you a little nervous. Now, a storm comes up, and everything you know says that you are going to die. You would be afraid. That is perfectly normal. In fact, that fear reaction is what preserves your life by keeping from from these kind of situations.

Yet, when it is all said and done, Jesus asks “where is your faith” as though if you had faith you wouldn’t have jumped to this conclusions. That strikes us as little harsh; a little unfair. That is because we misunderstand what faith is. We hear “faith” and think believe enough. We think what we’re supposed to do use our imaginations, shut out reality and just say “good will happen” and then we won’t be afraid. And we try that all the time, and it never works!

That is not faith.

Contrasted with the disciples being in jeopardy is the fact that Jesus is sleeping through this. When I read that, at first I remember Jonah who also slept in a storm, but there is a big difference. The difference is that Jonah had decided it was better to die than to obey and was more than ready to die for running away. Jesus is not sleeping because He doesn’t care if they live for die. Jesus is sleeping because He knows He won’t die.

Perhaps if the disciples had the same faith, they would not have been afraid either. Be careful here. There is a temptation to think we just need to believe that we will prevail. That storm can’t get me. That is foolish because that is placing faith in ourselves. I want to assure you, if you are in a storm at sea in a small boat, death is a very real possibility. The disciples were not in control of the sea and no amount of thinking they were could make it so.

Real faith is knowing Jesus. What the disciples did not realize is that sitting in that boat was the creator of that very wind and water. He had authority over that storm. Faith is not believing the storm can’t get you. Faith is believing that the storm can’t get Jesus! But that is also scary, because it means we will be face to face with the One who is over everything. What might He expect? What might He require? What might He see in me? This is no faith for cowards.

You may not be facing a storm in a small boat (though, that just might depend on whom you fish with), but it is certain that you will face a storm in life. If you are not now, you will. You will face situations that are completely out of your control that threaten everything important to you. Fear, worry, stress, anger. These things are natural when you face something out of control. You will be tempted to try to pacify these problems with a false hope in yourself. You will tell yourself all day long that nothing bad can happen, but it just might, and you will be left with Jesus saying “where is your faith?”

That’s the question: Where is your faith? This is not scolding you for not believing. This is a reminder that your faith is misplaced. Where is your faith?

Jesus is the only one who is in control. We are not. He is. He can handle all the storms in your life. Put your faith in Him.

That is not easy. The storms are scary enough, but the idea that I am not in control? That is terrifying. And the idea that I must turn to the One being in the universe that is in control of everything? I can hardly imagine what that will really mean to me.

Yet, once you stop putting your faith in circumstance you can’t control, and in yourself who can’t control circumstance, and put it in Christ who controls everything; then there is nothing to fear.