Monday, January 24, 2011

Life in the Midst of the Storm (A Letter for Men)

Para el español

NOTE: The letter below was written to the 40 men in our Men's Bible Study class at Birchman Baptist Church, which has been in existence for a year now. The letter ministered to many of our men and it has taken on a life of its own among others to whom our men minister. It is reprinted here for easy dissemination. One of our men has received a request for a Spanish translation and that will be posted here soon.


22 January 2011

Gentlemen,

This morning I woke up and prayed for each of you by name.

I imagine your life is much like mine. It seems to proceed from one adventure to the next, and often an adventure will be one of danger and tragedy. We know, conceptually, that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. Yet, life presents difficulties, even when we follow Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus experienced an example of this in Matthew 8. In verse 18, Jesus told the disciples they were going to get up and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Some decided to stay behind. Yet others were faithful to Jesus and did what Jesus said. In verse 23, it says that Jesus got in the boat and, immediately, “his disciples followed him.” However, in the very next verse, the boat was in the middle of “a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with waves.”

How do you like that? You follow Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, and Jesus leads you into a storm! This is not exactly the kind of life that the health and wealth preachers are preaching on the television. No, the Bible teaches another paradigm: Follow Jesus, enter turmoil. Be a disciple like He commands, and life heads into a life-threatening storm. Get in the boat with the Son of God, live in the midst of the storm!

If you are like me, you begin to cry out sometimes and say, “Why, Lord?! What is this mess? Why is this happening? This happened and then that, and then my friend had this happen, and then that (and on and on). Will everything in my life come apart now? Why is everything so difficult? Why is everything so messed up? Why won’t my kid...? Why did my wife...? Why did I...? Lord, I am so confused and so burdened and so helpless. Lord, help! Lord, are you even listening? Lord, are you awake?!”

Then, as everything is falling apart, you become frantic. Maybe not on the outside, for we men are supposed to be strong and stoic. But on the inside, the turmoil of life becomes the turmoil within our hearts and minds. And we cry. Maybe not with tears, because, you know, we are men who are supposed to be strong and stoic. Which often means that the inner turmoil may only build and show itself in other ways. The turmoil in the world around us can so easily become the turmoil inside us.

So, like the disciples, we reach the point where we go to the Lord and try to wake Him up. Like them, we cry out, “Lord, save us; we’re dying here!” (verse 25). And when God doesn’t act immediately, we begin to doubt. All sorts of strange thoughts run through our mind: “Is God listening? Does God care? Is He really there? Does He really have power over this life? Why is He letting me toss and turn and flop all over the place? Is there any meaning in this life?”

However, when we have reached the end of our rope, when we have given up the last hope, it happens. Yes, it happens. We look at God one last time, as if to seal our unbelief, and we notice that He is looking straight at us. We notice that He is real, that He is alive. We notice that the eyes of the God who knows everything are focused like a laser on our situation. And that stupid question we had gets answered. “Is God listening?” Of course! He is omniscient; He knows it all. He knows exactly what is happening in my life.

We also notice that His eyes, which are fixed like a laser on our life, are fixed with a look of love. Sometimes, a weary love, at having to show us yet again that His way is the best way. But, His eyes look at us with that deepest love that ever was, that love which is the basis of all creation and all redemption. And we remember that second odd question we asked: “Does God care?” Yes, He absolutely cares.

Afterwards, we notice behind those laser-like, loving eyes, there is raw power. We see that in, behind, above, before and all around those eyes is the power that created all things, the power that sustains their existence, the power that brings everything to its final end. He is in control. He does see the injustice, but He has been waiting. He does see the pain, but He has held back. He does see the death, but He has been patiently working with His power to the perfect solution. And we remember that third set of ignorant questions, “Is He really there? Does He really have power over this life?”

Before we can even proceed to try to answer the other questions we were asking, God speaks. Yes, the Lord speaks. And, this voice of comfort and rebuke says to us, “Why are you afraid, man of little faith?” Now, as a Texan, that hurts, because there is nothing little in the life of a Texan! Except, now, here, we have evidence of the littleness of our faith. But Jesus promised that He could take even faith as small as a mustard seed and make something great out of it, didn’t He? He did. And He does.

As we try to understand all that this means, the Lord stands in His power and with one word, He speaks to the storm in our life, and He rebukes it. And the silence is awesome. The meaning of the stillness breaks on you with the mind-grabbing clarity of clanging cymbals and beating drums. Except, there is no sound, there is no movement. There is nothing but you and the other disciples and God. You and God. All the problems have faded. The storm has disappeared. And you know that He is real, this God, the Lord, the Creator, the Redeemer; the Father Who sent His Son, the Son Himself, and the Holy Spirit.

And, as the peace descends, like the disciples, we begin to wonder at what has happened. One moment, the storm is overwhelming us. We cry out to God. The next moment, we notice that the One whom we thought didn’t care or couldn’t care really does care. And we marvel. "What manner of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey Him!"

In the reflections of the silence, the truth the Father revealed to us through Peter becomes ours: We know that this man, Jesus, is also God. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"

My friends, my brothers, my fellow disciples. God really does care. He cares for you. He cares about the storm in your life. He cares. And He will calm it. And in the stillness, when it comes, we will marvel together.

When I was a young man, a teenager, I was in a storm of depression. God comforted me with John 10:10--”The thief comes not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy, but I have come that you might have life and that more abundantly.” That verse helped me tremendously through my earliest and most violent storm of life. And, now, as I see all of the storms around me, ready to crash into me and you, I understand that the abundant life is a life lived in the adventure of storms. The only thing I need to do is get in the boat with Jesus and keep my eyes on Him. He knows it all and He can take even my small faith and do something great with it, in spite of me.

In Christ,
Malcolm

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