Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2010
Dear Friend in Christ:
Life is not always smooth sailing. What do we do then? How do we handle adversity that is beyond our control? There is an old song that says, “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.” There are many kinds of storms, and in my seventy-three years of life, I have seen some of them: economic, political, relational, and physical. A storm is turbulence and danger that threaten our lives.
Often, great events are followed by great tests to see if we learned the lessons of the great event. Mark 6:45-52 and Matthew 14:28-33 describe the storm that faced the disciples after the great event of Jesus’ feeding many thousands with a few loaves and fish.
After feeding the multitudes, Jesus sent them away, and He also sent his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee in a small boat. Being sent is a key to us who are followers of Jesus. It is vital to know that we are where we are because He sent us there. Then we have every right to trust Him to meet us there.
Jesus went up into the mountains to pray as He often did. One wonders what those times were like. The Divine Son engaging the Heavenly Father. We know one occasion where He was transfigured; were there others not witnessed by disciples? Perhaps. Was He praying for the disciples? He “ever lives to make intercession for us.”
There was an apparent separation: Jesus on the mount; the disciples on the sea. Jesus in the spiritual world; the disciples in an earthly storm. I remember years ago being in Yellowstone National Park. I saw a majestic elk stag; I got out of my car and followed him about 50 yards, until I realized that I was closer to him than I was to my car. I was mesmerized by his stateliness and calmness.
As I drew closer, I saw him peering over a ridge and below was his herd, grazing peacefully. I thought of the Lord who sees us and that He prays with His eyes upon us.
The disciples left in their small boat before evening, no doubt excited about the great event, a miracle in which they shared, but unaware of an event ahead. Then it became dark and finally, very stormy. They were no longer sailing; they were rowing very hard and making no progress against winds and waves. By now they had been on the sea for at least nine hours, and gaining no distance.
It is hard to remember yesterday’s miracle in today’s storm. I have been in storms on the water. In 1962, my wife and I crossed Mobile Bay in the midst of an unforeseen storm. It became very dark in the afternoon. The waves were so high we could not see over them and the motor was sputtering. She cried as I did my best to avoid sinking. The Lord helped us through it, but a storm can blow away presumption and refine true faith. It can bring fear to even a seasoned sailor.
When we can’t see the Lord, He sees us. He was in the Spirit and saw them rowing and straining against the winds and waves which were very physical. (He is still in the Spirit watching us when we cannot see Him in the darkness.)
Here on the Gulf Coast, many are in an economic storm. One pastor said that 80% of his members were unemployed. Men used to facing storms out at sea are now facing an uncontrollable economic storm. Neither British Petroleum nor the government has been their salvation.
HE CAME TO THEM
When we do not see Jesus, He sees us; when we cannot go to Him, he comes to us. In the darkness, the disciples saw Him coming to them, walking on the water. He was above the circumstance, radiant in the darkness.
“It’s a ghost,” they thought. Was He transfigured, as He was later, witnessed by them on the mount? Had His prayer been so completely in the Spirit that He not only saw them, but was briefly physically changed? I think so.
Do you remember that Moses’ face shone so brightly that he had to put a veil over it because people couldn’t look upon him? Or do you remember Jesus’ appearance to Joshua before His incarnation? Or do you remember Philip’s spiritual transport from the Ethiopian eunuch to Azotus? No limitation can be placed upon the hand of God or His love for His people.
As Jesus came to them, it appeared that he might walk past them. That possibility was more frightening than His appearance! They cried out; they went beyond mere prayer. Danger and necessity create real passion, and storms do that.
The old hymn says, “Pass me not O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.” That is a disturbing possibility!
HE GOT IN THEIR BOAT
“Be of good cheer, it is I,” He said. The moment Jesus gets in the boat, everything changes: the winds die and the waves cease and the other side is in view. Do you suppose that they made room in their boat for Jesus? He did not need the boat, but it needed Him.
Another hymn says, “Whether the wrath of the storm tossed sea or demons or men, whatever it be, not water can conquer the ship where lies the master of ocean or earth and skies!”
“And they were amazed.” Perhaps they needed to once again be amazed. Do we? I think, yes, we do. We have become rather casual about Jesus. Yesterday’s miracles have faded from our thinking. “Thank you Lord, but we can take it from here.” Can we? Storms remind us of our total dependence upon Him.
Tragically, some have no room in their boat for Jesus. They face the storm and even lose their lives in it because they make no room for Jesus. They turn toward to other avenues for help, which offer no hope: drugs, crime, or plain prideful denial, rather than to admit Jesus into their lives. The possibility that He might pass us by is very real and He waits for our invitation. Deliverance is not forced upon us, it is offered to us-to the church and the nation.
We have been sent-given a mission. But it is a mission that we cannot complete alone. At some point, a storm will present itself, and at that time, His salvation will become a necessity. In my humble opinion, the storm has come.
ME? WALK ON WATER?
The account in Matthew 14 tells us that Peter said, “If it is You, command me to come to You.” We love Peter; he gets a lot of us into the Kingdom. There are still those whose audacity is like Peter’s.
Jesus told him to do it. The Scriptures say that Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water. Amazing! (Remember, he did so at the Lord’s command.) A lot of us want to walk on the water, but will not get out of the boat. We are in a season where we must get out of the boat-to take a risk at the Lord’s command. We must do it while the storm still rages, not after it ceases. It is time for many of us to make a move that to some will seem foolish, but that is where miracles are.
Peter didn’t make it all the way to Jesus because he began to think about the winds and waves. He took his eyes off Jesus. Faith does not come from circumstance; it comes from seeing and hearing Jesus, and a steadfast focus on the “Author and Finisher of our faith”.
The Lord reached down and lifted Peter without criticism or rebuke. God can deliver us from our errors without condemnation. But he cannot deliver us from passivity and spiritual slumber. With eyes on Him, we can walk above the storm where He is. Even if we fail trying, He remains faithful and forgiving.
Do you believe our nation is in a storm? Are you in one? Is it getting dark? Are you tired of straining at the oars when you would rather be sailing? Do you believe that the Lord sees you when you can’t see Him? Do you believe that He is on His way to you? Do you believe that He sent you and that He is Lord of the seas and winds?
If the answer to all of this is “yes”, then this letter is especially for you. The main issue is not your walk on water; it is about your walk to Jesus with eyes on Him. Here are some lessons that I got from all of this:
Remember your past miracles-times when God intervened in an impossible situation. The Lord wants to know if you “got it”. Did your faith grow? Do you trust Him more? Can you have peace in the storm?
Remember that He sent you. Go back to your calling. Did you embark on your journey because you trusted Him? If so, keep trusting. If not, seek Him for his purpose. It is not just about you, it is about the mission.
Make room in your boat. Do not be too full of earthly life-too busy for Jesus. Allow Him to take charge. As long as we do it our way, we can’t allow Him to do it His way.
And, don’t look around or down, you’ll find no faith in circumstance. Keep a steady gaze upon Him. Get sensitive to His voice. If you have faltered, look for His hand and his uncondemning voice.
I believe that He sees where you are and even that He is with you now. He is with us always. Cry out with real passion-completely empty your cares and fears upon Him. See the Salvation of the Lord! We pray for you daily. It would bless us if you would send me a letter and tell me about what the Lord has done. Go ahead, walk on water!
As is so often the case, many of the lessons in this letter come from what God is saying to us currently, and the journey on which we are traveling. At CSM, we have been tested greatly this past summer. Even as we have sought to continue our publishing and outreach, we have faced significant downturn in our income, and have had to make painful cuts to our small staff and all salaries, as well as having to cut support to other ministries.
This has led all of us to pray more consistently and intensely about our mission and God’s will, as well as asking Him to supply our needs. It has also reminded us to pray for all of you, because we realize that so many of our friends are in a similarly difficult situation. All of us together must look to the Lord and see His victory in this-and every-season.
Please continue to remember us in your prayer and in your budget this month. We only ask that you give in whatever way the Lord leads you to give. We continue to believe that this ministry is effective and is meeting vital needs worldwide through the proclamation and demonstration of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
P.S. Please stop by our store to see how you can receive our NEW audio Bible teaching, “Walk on Water”-I believe it will encourage you.
Scripture Reference: Mark, Matthew