A different kind of defence

So yesterday, I wrote about the notion of defending the faith versus living it, and that living the faith is defending it. But while living it involves the knowledge that God is there to lead and protect us, it doesn’t mean living naively.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

— Matthew 10:16

Recently, a court ruled against a Christian couple who had refused to rent their vacation property to a lesbian couple. The women claimed discrimination; the owners claimed religious freedom. Courts all the way up the judicial ladder sided with the women.

The whole thing apparently started when the women told the owners they would only be needing one bed. That led to the question about their sexuality (although it’s not unusual for two heterosexual women to share a bed), which led to the refusal to rent … and the lawsuit … and nearly 14 years of court battles.

Now, there are plenty of good-faith reasons why the couple would have said they only needed one bed: they could have meant that it wouldn’t be necessary to go to the trouble of making up a second bed or provide a second set of bedclothes. But Satan has a way of twisting a good-faith action into an “issue”, and the owners took the bait, apparently thinking they were defending their faith by refusing them.

Was that wise? How does that reflect on other Christians or on Jesus Christ, Himself?

Supposing the owners had let that one slide. What if they had welcomed them into the property and done everything they could to make them comfortable and at ease? What if they had prepared the unit and  set out a Bible and maybe a copy of Our Daily Bread, subtly sending the message that their hosts were followers of Jesus Christ, who welcome any child of God without judgment?

No lawsuit. No ugly scenes. No muttering under the breath of , “Just like all those (expletive deleted) Christians.” And maybe two people, in whom has been planted a seed of the knowledge of God.

Let’s jam for a moment on Jesus’ words, “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”. Why do you suppose He would pick a serpent as the symbol for wisdom? Why not wise as owls or even border terriers?

Could it be because the serpent is the way Satan appeared to Adam and Eve and is the way he’s described in the Book of Revelation?

Is Jesus not telling us we need to be shrewd, aware and mindful of the ways we can be tempted or slip up? Remember that, in Christ, anything the devil does, we can do better: is Jesus not saying we need to out-smart Satan?

And what’s this “harmless as doves” thing? Doves are generally associated with peace and are regarded as sweet, unassuming things, but so are kittens, bunny-rabbits and butterflies: so why would Jesus tell us to be harmless as doves?

Is it not because the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove when Jesus was baptized? That dove might have seemed harmless, a thing of quiet beauty; but it represented the turning point in the war on Satan, and it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can win this fight in our own lives.

Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.

To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

— 1 Peter 5:8-11

Be sober, by assuming that other human beings are not setting you up for a fall. Be vigilant, by (a) being aware that Satan can take innocent or inadvertent situations and turn them into a trap; and (b) by responding to situations in a way that reflects well on Jesus and God. Resist the devil, but don’t strike back against the person who offends you (Matthew 5:39).

Remember that there was a time when you were unsaved, yourself; it’s not about getting Holy Brownie points for rejecting someone because you don’t agree with their religion, position or lifestyle: it’s all about God’s glory and dominion — the grace and love He showers on all who will receive it. And since you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are the means by which He reaches out to people to do that.

That, I believe, is how you defend the faith.

Defending the faith? Or living it?

“In my lifetime, [Donald Trump] has supported the Christian faith more than any president that I know,” [Franklin] Graham said. “That doesn’t mean he is the greatest example of the Christian faith, and neither am I, but he defends the faith. There’s a difference between defending the faith and living the faith.”

— Rev. Franklin Graham, quoted in The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2018

Someone had to say it.

Let’s consider this:

Jesus said, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Defend the faith!”

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter said to Him again, “You know I love You.” Jesus said, “Then find every sinner you can, point a finger in their face and scream at them that they’re going to Hell!”

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” and he said to Him “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Then gather together everyone else who loves Me and belittle everyone else who is lost, sick, different, poor in spirit, and not just like you; tell these brothers that because they believe in Me, anything they think is right must be the right thing.”

— John 21:15-17 (slightly modified)

Of course, that’s not how that exchange on the beach with Jesus and Peter goes. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” and when Peter — getting increasingly irritated — answers in the affirmative, He says simply, “Feed My sheep“. In other words, spread the Gospel, love others, bring them the Truth.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. … These things I command you, that you love one another.”

— John 15:12-14, 17

Nowhere does Jesus tell us to “defend” Him or “defend” the faith. We Christians (and heaven knows, I can be just as guilty of it as the next guy) tend towards a knee-jerk “defence” of Jesus whenever someone comes along who speaks against Him, the church, the faith itself. Believe it or not, Jesus calls us to keep loving the most egregious atheist, or the biggest promoter of evolution and the theory that the very creation of the earth was an accident.

Faith in Jesus Christ means accepting that He is Truth, and Truth is its own defence. Indeed, when Jude writes that we should “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3), he’s talking about watching out for people “who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4) Jude goes on to write that unbelievers will be dealt-with — but by God, not by us.

The other thing that we need to remember is that “defending” something implies hunkering down, arming oneself against all comers and adopting a bunker mentality. That’s not Scriptural, either. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are required to push forward, take possession of His promises, and “GO”. If there’s any “defending” that’s done, it’s our faith that defends us — not the other way around.

Which brings us back to Franklin Graham’s assessment of Donald Trump and the question, “What did Jesus tell us to do?”

Do we defend something that doesn’t need to be defended?

Or live something that needs to be lived?

Dale’s story – legacies

I’ve said it before: you never know what seeds you’ll sow.

I’ve also said this: the most dangerous part of a book is the cover.

IMG_0920Dale was one of “the guys” who came into Gospel Mission on the Downtown East Side. He was quiet, moody: I can’t remember seeing him smile or laugh. But he always came in and sat politely through the service, lined up for the food, said “thank you”, and faded off into the night, pushing his shopping cart full of belongings and stuff he’d gleaned from the dumpsters.

He was also the impetus for a major move of God. But we’ll come back to that shortly.

Carrall St 300 blk 2013-02-13One night, a woman named Kathy was leading Worship. She played her guitar and sang — a nice mix of old-time Gospel and contemporary Christian songs. We did the service and served the meals and she, Amelia, John, Danilo, Gavin and I started cleaning up.

Rather than leave with the others, Dale hung around. Finally, he came timidly up to Kathy and asked if he could play her guitar. She said, “sure”, and he went to the back of the room and sat down. We continued with the cleaning, and then stopped dead in our tracks: from the back of the room came the opening riff to “Taking Care of Business”. Dale, it turned out, was one heck of a rock guitarist.

We stared for a moment, then, remembering how reclusive Dale could be, went back to work so’s not to spook him.

After BTO, he played Eagles, then some Bob Seger, and then, seeing that we were finishing up, he handed the guitar back to Kathy. “You gotta play for us some night!” we said. Dale shrugged noncommittally and left. He played the guitar on a couple of other nights — again, after the service, when most of the others had left. We talked about clubbing together to buy him a guitar of his own, but he shook his head. He didn’t have a place to keep it, because he didn’t have a home.

I don’t know what Randy Bachman and Fred Turner were thinking when they wrote “Taking Care of Business” back in the mid-70s, but you can bet that the notion that, thirty years later, a reclusive, homeless guy in the worst part of Vancouver would assert his identity using their song did not cross their minds. But there it was: Dale saying, even just to himself, “This is who I am!”

You never know what seeds you’ll sow.

And the impetus Dale supplied? On one of our first times at the Mission, ministering on a Saturday night, we spotted Dale when he would come in and head straight to the laundry tub at the back of the room. He would run the water and wash his face and head, grabbing a dishtowel to dry himself. It triggered the notion that people in the area needed a proper place to wash up, because obviously, whatever was provided wasn’t doing the job.

A year later, in the most astounding series of Moves of God, The Lord’s Rain opened.

If the ax is dull,
And one does not sharpen the edge,
Then he must use more strength;
But wisdom brings success.

— Ecclesiastes 10:10

BUSY DAY AT THE LORD'S RAIN

It could get busy at The Lord’s Rain

The Lord’s Rain proved to be a “sharper edge” that helped reach more people with what the senior pastor, Barry Babcook, was fond of calling “Jesus with the skin on” — Christ in action, rather than on paper. People who ordinarily wouldn’t come into a church, or had been wounded “in the Name of the Lord”, would find, at the showers facility, a mix of material and spiritual things that they were looking for. Many would ask questions about God and the Bible and I like to think they also found a source of hope in an area noted for being hope-challenged.

Dale, the “poster boy” in our minds, never did take a shower there. He was too concerned someone would rip off his shopping cart.

I last saw Dale about five years ago. He had accomplished one of the toughest feats on the Downtown East Side, however: he had left the Downtown East Side. I found him pushing his shopping cart around the West End — as far from the Downtown East Side as you can get without crossing a bridge. I hope he has access to a guitar, so that those who might look down their nose — if they look at all — at “just another binner” might be blessed by his gift.

Of children, guns and “actors” (SPECIAL POST)

Just when one thought the situation at that high school in Florida couldn’t get more tragic, we see the sight of certain public figures claiming that the students taking the case for gun control to Washington are “actors”. One could call it “pathetic” to see people clinging to some kind of belief to the point that they would dismiss the deaths of 17 innocents so airily; but the word is really “demonic”. How else do you explain it?
 
And there lies a glimmer of hope, because when you recognize how the enemy is involved here, you can not “raise a little hell” but call down Heaven. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” We can pray for these people, and maybe, just maybe, they will be awakened at 2AM and realize what they’ve said and done.
 
And there’s more that we can do. We can look for the ways we can instill hope in our children and grand-children and one another. At the heart of any such tragedy is a loss of hope for the future and a life devoid of love. We need to live, talk and act as though there is something more than the things we see around us, and do so in the presence of the weird kid or the moody loner — as well as to the one who seems to have it all together, since they’re just as likely to throw a piston and grab a gun.
 
Because really, it’s not about guns, it’s about hearts. It’s about hope.
 
The hope lies in Jesus. Not in “Christianity”, with its man-made, religious approaches, but in Jesus. Those who know that have the power — and the responsibility — to spread that truth as far and wide as possible. Only Christ in us can overpower the demons.
One more thing. A popular retort of atheists, mistheists, agnostics and Just Plain Don’t Want To Believe is, “Where was God at a time like that?”
They won’t like it, but there is an answer to that. “Right were He always is, waiting for us to call Him in.”

Can we handle it?

And the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.

— Deuteronomy 7:22

Jack Truth

There’s a lot more truth to “You can’t handle the truth!” than some of us might want to admit. Sure, truth is messy and scary — especially when it makes us look bad to ourselves or others — but it can also be just plain overwhelming.

I got to thinking about this when I was going back over yesterday’s post, about the “opportunity” of temptation. For all the times I had read the passage about the Garden of Eden and the two trees, why had I not asked the question, “Why did You put those trees there?” until then?

Simply put, it was a truth I was only ready to “handle” at that time.

Truth is a blessing. There’s a reason why Jesus says, “I am … the truth,” as opposed to, “I am the comforting lie”. We know that truth liberates us from lies and clarifies the world around us. And as for blessing, that’s a different, but not unconnected, matter.

God doles out blessing to us as He sees fit; as He knows we are able to receive it. The best example I can think of is a sudden increase in wealth. How many times have you heard of people who have won a lottery or some other gambling jackpot and seen it evaporate, leaving them in just as rough shape as before? Or someone who is $10,000 in credit card bills, having it suddenly cleared off, only to plunge right back into it again?

An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning
Will not be blessed at the end.

— Proverbs 20:21

This isn’t judgment on the lottery winners or people who ask for and get sudden infusions of cash: it’s merely an inconvenient truth. As humans, we tend to think that once we receive what we think we need, we’ll say, “Thanks, God — I’ll take it from here,” and run into trouble. Truly, the “beasts of the field” will rise up and destroy us.

A now-departed friend of mine was fond of saying, “God always comes through in the eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute.” That, of course, is according to our timing. With God, His timing is spot-on. Our duty in such cases is to stand on faith, patient and confident that He is good to His word; and when that blessing comes through, we will have the wisdom to stay in step with Him on what to do with that blessing.

Another part of God’s way of unveiling of truth to us constantly and gradually, is that it invites us to return to God’s Word again and again, looking for the next nugget, even if it comes from a passage we thought we’d seen hundreds of times before. It’s called, “Keeping the conversation going,” which draws us and God ever closer.

Temptation … or opportunity?

Thomas_Cole_The_Garden_of_Eden_detail_Amon_Carter_Museum

Thomas Cole, The Garden of Eden, 1828

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.

So He drove out the man, and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

— Genesis 3:22-24

If we are not supposed to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the tree of Life, have you ever wondered why God planted them in the garden of Eden — within reach of man — in the first place?

Was He tempting us? Tantalizing us with something that looked really good and — as it turned out — was pleasant to the taste?

Blessed is the man who endures temptation: for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

— James 1:12-13

So what’s the deal with the trees?

Doesn’t God want us to discern good from evil? Sure — but on His terms.

… the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

— Hebrews 4:12

It’s through the Word that God gives us, that we are to be able to tell the difference. What’s more, delineating right from wrong comes through the Commandments, which God gave Moses: ascribing good and evil is a value judgment, and Jesus tells us we are not to judge, or else we’ll be judged with the same yardstick.

Of course, judging people makes us feel good: it’s a “fruit to be desired”, because it makes us feel like we’re superior to the other guy (if you don’t buy that, ask yourself why you react the way you do when another driver cuts you off in traffic). On the other hand, we reject God’s Commandments and portray Him as a buzz-kill for telling us what’s right and wrong.

God wants us to have life, too, and lots of it — the kind that makes us “like one of Us”. But again, it has to be on His terms, namely, through His Son. And there, too, we reject “God’s way”, demanding “quality of life” rather than “abundant life”. (For me, life with Jesus is “quality life”; if I define “quality” in my own way, I’m rejecting what God has.)

So we come back to the question, why would God put those trees there, within easy reach? For one thing, we were to admire and cherish the fruit on those trees, and not covet it. James writes that that kind of desire leads to sin and eventually death (James 1:15) We were to look at them and see that knowledge of good and evil and abundant life are things God wants for us and will hand out to us as we can receive them.

But for another, they’re an opportunity — an opportunity to obey God. He creates us to be made of sterner stuff than that which gives in to desire, and He also creates us to have freedom of choice. He’s like the parent who leaves the Hallowe’en candy in a bowl in the living room and tells the kids they can’t have any, trusting they’ll wait until mom or dad says they can.

God is too much of a good Father to tempt us, or to withhold any good thing: but He is a loving Father, who trusts us to obey.

One missing word

There’s a cliché, “conspicuous by its absence”. Can you spot the conspicuously-absent word here?

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy Kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory,

Forever and ever.

Amen.

Jesus’ disciples have asked Him, “teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1), and Jesus responds with this prayer. According to Matthew’s account (Matthew 6:9), He tells them, “In this manner, therefore, say …”

In other words, The Lord’s Prayer is a “template”, a form for us to observe when we go before the Lord. But before I dissect the template, have you spotted the conspicuously-absent word yet?

“Please.”

Once we get past the opening remarks, declaring (and reminding ourselves) Who God is, we get into a series of commands. “Give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our trespasses … lead us not into temptation …” But nowhere do you see the word “please”. The prayer basically “calls out” God, almost commanding Him to provide for us the things we need and protect us from Satan. Tugging at the forelock, looking down and shuffling the feet are not part of our relationship with God.

And Jesus declares this awesome relationship with God, where we can “come boldly to the throne of Grace” (Hebrews 4:16) and call on Him to fulfill His promise — as we keep up our end of the bargain by worshipping and obeying Him.

It’s what James calls “effective, fervent prayer of the righteous” (James 5:16) and it works miracles in countless places (“avails much”).

(Many years ago, I wrote a whole book — a rather good one, I thought — based on a curious verse in Isaiah, “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me.” (Isaiah 45:11 KJV). In His infinite mercy, He did not allow that book to be published, because it contained some serious theological miscues, but the point about calling boldly on God is one that might be worth revisiting. Another time.)

The way I see it, God’s promise is secure and unwavering, but because He handed over dominion on the earth to humans, someone on earth needs to speak it out in order to “activate” it. It’s no different from Abraham, appearing to bargain with God to preserve Sodom and Gomorrah, or Moses, interceding on behalf of the Israelites when God says He’s ready to wipe them out for rejecting Him and create a new nation in Moses. Neither man was “convincing” God or “changing His mind”: they were simply binding and loosing on earth what was already bound and loosed in Heaven.

Sure, it takes boldness to stand up like that to the Creator of the Universe, but God made us in His image, and that image is not simply Love, it’s Boldness.

So as we pray for our needs and even the desires of our heart, let’s be bold and confident in our manner, knowing that all things are subject to the will of Him Who knows the beginning from the end; but that mealy-mouthed, simpering supplication just doesn’t cut it.

Careful with that axe (knife), Eugene!

Throughout the Bible, you can see concepts that were “set up” in the Old Testament and followed-through in the New Testament. Take, for example, God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham nearly went through with it, even though he believed God, that “in Isaac your seed shall be called” (Genesis 21:12). At the last instant, an Angel of the Lord stops him, and God says,

“… now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

— Genesis 22:12

The follow-through, of course, is in God, not withholding His only Son from us. The difference is that God did go through with the sacrifice.

Or look at the way God tempts Moses, when the Israelites continually disobey Him.

Then the Lord said to Moses: “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?

“I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

— Numbers 14:11-12

But Moses doesn’t take the bait. He knows full well that God’s covenant is with Abraham — it was God Himself who told him that — and rather than argue that point, he continues interceding for the Israelites. It was not a matter of arguing with God, so much as staying focused on the Word and focused on the promise.

Compare that with,

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”

— Luke 4:5-7

And Jesus doesn’t bite, either, but stays focused on the Word. For one thing, His assignment is to take back the authority over the earth, and it won’t come through worshiping Satan.

And then, there is circumcision.

First, there is the physical circumcision, as decreed to Abraham, indicating the covenant with God by trimming away excess flesh. And then there is the more symbolic circumcision,

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My fury come forth like fire,
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings.

— Jeremiah 4:4

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
— Romans 2:28-29
Now, let’s consider this. God promises to “call” Abraham’s seed, yet physical circumcision involves trimming away excess flesh from the very part of the anatomy required to produce that seed. Performing that operation requires a sharp knife, steady nerves and sober thought about what is truly “excess”.
But in Jeremiah’s prophecy and the new Covenant, we’re called to circumcise our hearts: the very thing where true nature resides. Our heart is the “base camp” for our emotions, our feelings and our love towards God and towards one another. That is the source of the Gospel seed we plant, so circumcising that means trimming away any excess spiritual “fat”.
What is that excess?
  • religion (as opposed to true faith)
  • worldly imitations of love, e.g., lust or tolerance
  • self-righteousness
  • pride

Just as in the Old Covenant, circumcising the heart has to be done carefully. Indeed, both Jeremiah and Paul write about it in the “second person” — “circumcise yourselves to the Lord.” It’s something we need to do ourselves, because if we let someone else do it, they could well — even with the best of intentions — use guilt, condemnation, judgment and myriad other cuts that go beyond trimming excess flesh and wound — or even destroy — our heart.

That’s why it’s important, as Paul says, to focus not on the opinion of men but of God.  Circumcision of the heart is painful enough, but when we do it, we’re left with a lasting, indelible mark of our Covenant with Him.

In the Boat with Jesus – 2*

*Another re-run, but something relevant to the theme that developed this week.

Yesterday, we considered heading off on a journey with Jesus in the boat, as the disciples did when they left Capernaum and He said, “Let us cross over to the other side.” The storm came up, the disciples panicked and accused Jesus of not caring that they were going down.

So Jesus rebuked the wind, calmed the seas and questioned their faith. So their lives were spared and they continued on their journey.

Now, the rest of the story.

Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately, there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.

— Mark 5:1-4

Once again, let’s look at this map. Jesus isn’t very specific about “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee, and you can bet that the disciples each had a different idea of what their destination would be and what they were supposed to do when they got there. Let’s face it: the disciples often couldn’t get together on whether it was a nice day, so you could have as many ideas of where they were going as there were people in the boat.

So when the storm is finally calmed and they land on shore, they’re near Gadara. And immediately, Mark’s Gospel tells us, they’re met by the demon-possessed man. Jesus heals him and as an extra, added attraction, sends the demons to their doom and gets rid of a couple hundred unclean animals*.

Now, consider what might have happened if the storm hadn’t come up:

  • there would have been discord on the boat, with Jesus asleep, as the disciples started arguing over where they were supposed to go
  • they would have landed at someplace other than Gadara
  • if they had landed at Gadara, it would have been too early to meet the possessed man
  • the possessed man would not have been healed
  • the disciples would have missed out on the manifestation of Jesus’ Authority and not understood, later, when He told them they, too, had that Authority

So rather than knock them off-course, the storm placed them exactly where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there, doing what they were supposed to be doing.

One more thing: your level of faith affects people you probably don’t even know. Look at yesterday’s quote again, and note this sentence: “And other little boats were also with Him.” The people in those boats didn’t have Jesus with them, and they were probably just as terrified as the disciples. So when the disciples turned to Jesus and Jesus calmed the storm, the people in the other boats would have been saved, as well. In the same way, if you lack faith, others around you are in danger of sinking, too.

I digress. What’s important is that when Jesus gives us what seems like a vague assignment, we follow it, step by step, and not assume that we know what the end result is supposed to be. I can think of one assignment in my own life — building a facility to provide showers to people on Vancouver’s Skid Row — that turned out to be so much more than just giving people a place to wash up, although none of us involved with the project had any idea.

You might not know where you’re supposed to be going, but with Jesus in the boat, you can be sure that whatever happens and wherever you wind up, you’ll be in exactly the right place at the right time.

=====

*One has to wonder, why people were herding pigs, anyway. It was forbidden to eat pork, so any commercial value would have been in defiance of that law. Drowning these domestically-raised pigs would have been the equivalent of kicking over the money-changers’ tables, no?

In the boat with Jesus-1*

*I’m taking a couple of days away to prepare a presentation, so today and tomorrow, I offer a couple of re-runs, which, I think, fit nicely with the theme that’s developed this week.

On the same day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

— Mark 4:35-40 (NKJV)

You have to wonder if Jesus was being fair to the disciples. It takes a lot of faith to get into the boat with Jesus. The disciples did it, and what’s more, they set out at night onto the Sea of Galilee, with this instruction: “Let us cross over to the other side.”

GALILEE MAP

Hmm. Looks to me like, from Capernaum (where they were leaving), there’s a whole lotta “other side” to the Sea of Galilee, and the fact that I’ve marked Gadara is something we’ll get into tomorrow.

At any rate, the disciples grab the oars (or set sail — it’s not clear) and off they go into the dusk. And the night falls and the storm rises and they start taking on water — and personally, that scenario leads my Top 10 List of Worst Nightmares. Yeah – it’s terrifying.

So they rouse Jesus. Jesus handles the situation, and then questions their faith.

Because the disciples’ “faith level” lasted as long as things looked easy. After all, it was only evening — not night-time yet — and the sea was calm. But as soon as the storm came up and became a situation beyond their control, they turn on Jesus and practically accuse Him of not caring that their lives are in danger.

In other words, “this is Your fault we’re in this mess!”

What the disciples didn’t realize, and what we have the advantage of knowing now, is that when Jesus sends you on an assignment, you will get there. And yes, there’ll be storms and danger and you’ll think that you’re going down; but if you turn to Jesus, you’ll see He’s curled up in the stern of your boat, sleeping comfortably on a pillow, absolutely unperturbed.

And frankly, He won’t care that you’re perishing, because you’re not — not so long as you remember He’s there with you, is well-rested and ready to help you when you turn to Him, and you don’t ask silly questions like, “don’t You care?”

Mind you, you do wind up getting blown completely off-course.

Or do you?