Monday, January 31, 2011

Jesus Stills the Storm –OR– How to Have a Good Night’s Sleep No Matter What’s Going on in Your Life

“Who is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” That was the disciples’ question after Jesus commanded a storm to be still and the storm obeyed. Jesus had been sleeping in the back of the boat when a storm arose – a storm severe enough to make seasoned fishermen frightened for their lives. As the storm raged, Jesus continued to sleep. The terrified disciples woke Jesus, crying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” First Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, and then he rebuked the storm. The disciples had seen Jesus heal people and cast out demons, but when the very Earth obeyed his command, a new sense of awe overcame the disciples. (Matthew 8:23-27)

While people draw many different lessons from this episode, the thing that strikes me is that Jesus was able to sleep in the middle of a storm. If you ever have difficulty going to sleep at night because of some turmoil in your life, you probably (like me) would like to know Jesus’ secret for sleeping right through storms.

The secret is in Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father. He knows that his ultimate safety always lies with the Father. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8, NIV)

While we have a reconciled relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ, while we intellectually know that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God looks on us as his own dear children, living in that peace that lets us sleep requires that we cultivate that relationship with God.

Jesus had at least five habits that we all need in order to live close to God and, therefore, be able to sleep peacefully even in difficult circumstances.

1.  Jesus kept a weekly Sabbath.  A Sabbath is a day in which we intentionally put aside temporal concerns such as work to focus on our relationships with God and other people. We need to remind ourselves regularly that earthly life is a temporary journey and our ultimate home lies with our heavenly Father.

2. Jesus often engaged in solitary prayer. While we benefit from participating in group prayer experiences such as worship services and small group Bible studies, we need to relate one-on-one with God for him to get into the deeper parts of our soul.

3. Jesus knew the scriptures. While Jesus had an edge, being the Word of God incarnate, knowing the promises of God helped him ward off temptation. Those same promises can bring peace to our hearts in the troubles of the world and our own life.

4. Jesus engaged in faith dialog. As young as twelve years old, Jesus was questioning the teachers in the temple. We all have questions buried inside of us, like little dark spots in the light of our souls. When unacknowledged and not shared, those little dark spots fester. Engaging in authentic faith dialog with others creates spaces for those little dark spots to percolate naturally to the surface. Once they are out, their power to power to steal our peace is diminished.

5. Jesus lived in obedience to the Father. If you know what God would have you do and you don’t do it, you can’t really expect God to give you his peace, can you?

For a Christian, these habits exist under the umbrella of Grace. We are saved by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast. But failure to live out habits that connect us with God can lead to a sleep-deprived Christian. When we look at Jesus in the boat, we see a man sleeping through a storm. Jesus sees a child asleep under the watchful eyes of a loving Father. As you cultivate these five habits, you, too, will more and more see yourself not as a human trying to make it in this world of changes and chances, but as a child of God, falling asleep under the loving eyes of a heavenly Father.

Friday, January 28, 2011

February is the "Love" month

Here comes February, the Hallmark… uh, I mean, “love” month, the month in which celebrate Valentine’s Day. For some time already I’ve been seeing ads encouraging people to get an early start ordering their flowers. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

It’s a little bit odd that our season of sentiment started out as a commemoration of two (maybe three) Christian martyrs named “Valentine” who died around AD200-AD300. The feastday of Saint Valentine was placed on the official calendar of the Catholic church in AD500, but was removed by Pope Paul VI because, “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

The migration of Saint Valentine’s Day from a feastday commemorating martyrs to a day designated for declarations of love is lost in the fog of history. It seems clear, however, that by the 1600’s Valentine’s Day was associated with love in the popular view. In Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” Ophelia speaks of her desire to be Hamlet’s valentine as Saint Valentine’s Day approaches. Nowadays, whether it’s due to the increasing interaction between cultures or just plain ol’ marketing, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in much of the world.

So what does this most Hallmark of holidays have to do with our Christian faith in 2011? Would God send you a mushy, sappy Valentine’s Day card, declaring his undying love for you? I think he would! I think he has! He calls us his bride. He tells us that nothing in all of creation can separate us from his love. Three words: “Song of Solomon.” Need I say more? Humanity is the ultimate ‘damsel in distress,’ so loved by Jesus that he confronted our captor, Satan, with a daring swap: his death for ours. Then he busted out of the prison of death, destroying forever death’s grip on us, his beloved bride. Our hero!

To offer oneself up to death in the place of another, now that’s true love! Perhaps the union of the martyrdom of Saint(s) Valentine with the modern day celebration of Valentine’s’ Day is at its core a more appropriate marriage than it would appear. Solomon wrote, “Love is as strong as death.” Jesus brings love and death together in a most intimate fashion, declaring that death is, in fact, the height of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 (ESV))

While laying down one’s physical life might be considered the ultimate test of love, living out love day by day—I’m thinking here of the “agape” type of love (a decision to treat someone lovingly) as opposed to mere affection or attraction—is a kind of daily death. When you choose to be patient, kind, not jealous, boastful, rude or self-seeking, it is a kind of dying to yourself and your ‘rights.’ But, this is the kind of death that brings life.

Jesus said, “…whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25 (NKJV))

In the narrow sense, this verse refers directly to our commitment to Jesus as Lord, but the scriptures teach us that love for our fellow man is inseperable from love for God. “…he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20 (ESV))

So the real question for Valentine’s Day is this: are you dying daily to yourself to live out Jesus’ love for those around you? If we put you on the scales to measure your love—remembering that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–6 (ESV))—how would you measure up? Of course you wouldn’t measure up like Mary Poppins, “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” That’s why we need a savior! But still, as one who desires to follow Jesus, how are you doing? It’s a good question to reflect on this Valentine’s Day because it’s a question that leads you toward life, and Jesus came that we might have Life and have it abundantly!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Pastor John