Posts Tagged ‘Faith’


Posted: August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them,“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I’ve been reading the gospel of Mark lately.  You should too.  I love all the kittens.  Like these:

but u sed

You too?!  I know.  Why?  Because, kittens.

Right?  Of course.

Okay.  That’s fun.  But really, there’s no kittens in the gospel of Mark.  I think they’re pretty much limited totally to the gospel of John- because he’s all about Love and stuff.  Mark’s kind of in too big a hurry all the time to be snappin pics of kittens.

But seriously though.  I read this passage this morning and it was like a brand new experience.  I’d read it before of course.  Everyone knows the story about Jesus telling the wind and the sea to simmer down.  Do you ever read the bible, store the data, and totally not really get the point?  Like, you’re take away is… “uh, because…. Jesus?”

But I think this time was different.

We’ve got these “experienced” fishermen out on the lake, going to the other side.  I can’t help but mention that they left at dusk.  You know, when EVERYBODY gets in their boat and shoves off.  Course, maybe it’s not THAT weird, being fishermen and stuff.  But I also noticed that they’ve just had an encounter with “the crowd,” who keeps following them everywhere.  And I can’t help but wonder if they were looking to make a discreet exit under the cover of darkness.  But anyway, there.  I’ve mentioned that.

So, they’re working their way across the lake, and a huge storm comes up, so huge that the size of the waves is such that they are cresting over the top of the boatside.  But meanwhile Jesus, tired from a big day of miracles, and exasperating encounters with dull disciples, is … fast asleep in the bottom of the boat.  Where all that cold water is sloshing around.  Weird.

So, cut to the guys at the oar, and panic abounds.  They decide that they might be in over their heads, and decide they better get the honcho on the case.

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He wakes up, and gets right to the business of settling down the storm.  “Peace!”

And there was a great calm. . .

Sounds like a nice night to be on the water.  NOW.  And Jesus turns to his shipmates, and proceeds to rail.

Have you ever asked yourself what he was so upset about?  I just did.

It seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  I mean, big storm, big waves, water in the bottom of the boat.  Middle of the night.  Death.  Yeah, I’d be a little freaked out.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to agree.  I mean, what does he expect?  That since we’re in the boat with Jesus we’re safe?  Nothing bad can happen?

I don’t really think so.

Here’s what I think: I think that Jesus wasn’t rebuking the concern they had for the danger they were in.  They were in legitimate danger.  He rebuked the fear that made them totally freak out.

In John’s gospel, Jesus promises that the world will hate us if we follow him, because it hated him first.  He says that “you will have trouble in the world.” But then he says: “TAKE HEART!  I have conquered the world!”  I think *that* is what was irritating him in the boat.  The disciples were afraid.

* * *

I love the 23rd Psalm.  It’s beautiful and poetic.  It’s tranquil and yet conquering.  But my favorite part slides by almost without being noticed.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Can you guess which part is my favorite?

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Jesus says earlier in John that he is the good shepherd.  I’m sure that this Psalm of David wasn’t far from his mind, nor the minds of his listeners.  The comfort for me is in the fact that God leads us along paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  I think Jesus was rebuking the disciples not for responding to the storm- it WAS dangerous.  But they doubted their wellness.  They were panicked.  WHY?  Jesus asks, “where is your FAITH?”  But the object of their faith is God.  The very best shepherd.

And the really good news isn’t that He’s a good shepherd either.  Nope.  It’s that he will always BE OUR good shepherd BECAUSE IT’S HIS REPUTATION THAT’S ON THE LINE.  Not because we’re great sheep.  Even if we are.  And even if we’re not.  But because if he didn’t lead us in paths of righteousness, he wouldn’t BE a good a shepherd, and that’s just not who he is.

Hopefully, next time I’m in a storm, and the waves have my whiskers all wet, I can go to Jesus, and tell him I need him.  And I won’t be scared.  I won’t be, as James says, double-minded, being tossed about this way and that way like a wave on the ocean.  Hmm.  I wonder if James ever went on a three-hour tour with his older brother, the wind-whisperer?


Genesis 50 

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Death.  Fear.  Insecurity.  Sorrow.  Conspiracy.  Deception.  Paranoia.  The abuse of power.

Sympathy.  Compassion.  Humility.  Graciousness.  Generosity.  Trust.  Reliance.

The Kingdom of this world, contrasted starkly with the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s brothers have been dependent on their shared connection with Joseph to Jacob for security from Joseph’s wrath.  The atrocities of their youth have followed them for decades now, and they have not accepted the forgiveness that Joseph gave them before, when they came to him as a governor.  They have refused to let go, they have refused to lay back into the mercy God gave to Joseph.  They are captured in the hell of their choosing.  Why?  Because they haven’t understood God.

Joseph has experienced comfort and strength in God.  He has trusted in God, and God has shown Joseph his calling in Egypt.  Joseph has known peace and purpose in being able to literally save a generation of people with the wisdom of God.  Joseph tells his brothers, now, as before when they were reconciled; “What you intended for harm God has made for good!  I have saved many lives!”  For Joseph, the Kingdom of Heaven is very near.  He is living harmoniously with his neighbors, and communing with God, fulfilling his calling dutifully and without prejudice.

But the brothers expect vengeance.  The brothers expect a return on their cruelty.  Even now, after decades of Joseph’s generosity, they can imagine only pretense and falsehood.  Now they are genuinely afraid.  They are self-interested and self-absorbed.  Conspiracy and deception are the places they toss and turn at night, imagining the depth of Joseph’s hatred, building the prison cells and torture chambers that Joseph has secreted away, waiting for the day.

Because they have not understood God.

Have we accepted God?  Or do we hide in the dark corners, afraid of the Judge, imagining the litany of sins that He might read to us?  Do we fear his wrath?

I may deserve His wrath, just as Joseph’s brother’s surely did not deserve anything but Joseph’s wrath for hating him, for plotting against him, threatening him with death, and selling him off to foreign traders.

But Joseph saw past the sins.  Joseph chose to be gracious.  And that is something he learned from God.  We don’t see where, we don’t see how.  But God has surely shown Joseph the same thing He has been lobbying you and me with- the desire to show mercy.

I wonder if Joseph saw through it all that time.  If he knew that his brother’s still did not trust him.  I wonder if he gave the lavish meals, the good pastures for their flocks, gave them all of the good things that Egypt and Pharaoh offered them, and all along, saw the distrust in their eyes.

But he kept giving it to them.  He never stopped giving it to them.

And then he blessed them.

There’s an interesting contrast, when Joseph says in verse 21, “Don’t be afraid, I will provide for you, and your children.”  And then a few verses later, he says “I am about to die- but God will surely come to your aid…”

Joseph has done everything he can to show the depth of his forgiveness to his brothers.  But even Joseph will die.  But do not be afraid, because though I die, God does not- He will surely come to your aid.

Where does Joseph get this generosity?  This courage?  The depth of faith to lie on his deathbed and rely on God?

He has experienced it himself.  He has seen God’s promises, known God’s love, felt the arms of God’s compassion.

God has shown Joseph love that doesn’t stop loving, gifts that are sourced in the desire to give and the generosity of the Giver, not the merit of earner, and grace that is ruled by grace, not ruled by a fickle temper.

Joseph is a mirror for God.  Cast aside, sold off as rubbish.  Yet rising up to give good things, speak into the darkness of chaos and misunderstanding.  Humbly serving behind the curtain of Pharaoh, and not seeking power, but seeking to serve.  And spending endlessly to convince the darkness that light is present and ready.  Even if the darkness does not see it.  Even if the darkness doesn’t believe.

Joseph is not forgiving his brothers so that they will believe and be forgiven.  He is forgiving his brothers because God has shown him that it is the best way.  It is His own way.

God forgives because it pleases him to forgive.  It makes Him a better God.  And he will continue to offer it to us, even as we turn, even as we refuse, even as we accept it be it uncertain or distrustful.  While it is for us, it serves Him too.

Genesis.  The beginning, but also part of the middle.  And a blurry view of the end.  Not too bad.

Genesis 47:

23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
 25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
 26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
 28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
                “I will do as you say,” he said.
 31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.[d]

The last scenes of Genesis are set.  Jacob, the place on the young tree where the trunk ends, and the branches burst out in array, is leaning on a bedpost, old and ailing.  Jacob, Israel, whose turbulent life crossed the deserts and plains of modern day Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and crossed paths with God in visions, dreams, and once, in the shadowy form of another man.

God is often perceived as being static, decorous, and formal.  He’s perceived as being distant, prone to commands and cursing, mighty acts of judgement that come from some lofty place.  He is not the friendly grandfather that we see in characters like Santa Claus.  Rather, he’s the grumpy old man at the end of the block who has a barrel full of baseballs that came over the fence, but were abandoned by boys who would sooner go home to get another ball than attempt to recover the long ball from his yard.

But none of that appears in this prospectus on God.

In this first glimpse of God, He and what He has created are very intimate.  God is the woo-er, coming in dreams, coming in smokey visions and revealing who He really is.  Assuring recipients of these visions and dreams that He is good, that He has a special calling and purpose for them, and that it is good.

In a land and culture where the meek must please and satisfy the wants and needs of their gods, the God of the Bible comes to serve and prosper the wants and needs of his people.  In a culture where people sacrifice their animals, and spill their own blood in sacrifices of self-mutilation, we see a God who covenants Himself to a person- walking between the slain animals in an expression of promise with fateful consequences while Abram looking on.

While the peoples around bribe and flatter their gods, the God introduced in the Bible pours blessing out, offering himself in community, saying “I will be with you,”  not “come and be with me.”

And now, we witness His reliability unfolding.  Generations ago, He made a promise to Eve.  Then He told an old man to build a boat, and that he would be a blessing to every family on Earth.  Then He told another old man to not be afraid, that he would a father in his old age.  That he would father nations of nations.  Even though it seemed to take forever, the longer it took the more amazing it became.  And it happened.  

Then, He provided for Isaac a divinely appointed wife, with whom the promises to Abram would continue to blossom.

Not that it was easy.  Not that it was a constant source of pleasure and joy.  But nevertheless and never you mind, despite the many pains and problems that life in a sin-touched world presents, God is faithful to His promises, and Jacob is the place where the stump ends and the branches of the tree spring out.  While the winds shake the tree, rattling every dry leaf and every heavy nut right off, it prospers through dry seasons and pleasant ones.

The promise is still vibrantly alive and expanding.  A boy is born, and through tragedy finds himself able to buffet the crushing waves of famine that would have cut the top off the tree like a tornado.  And by the boys shrewdness and God’s insight, He is able to literally save a generation from death and dryness.

Now, a very, very old and wearied man takes rest in God, leaning upon the head of his bed, and worshipping this faithful God, this God who has loved him when he was running and when he was still.  A God who his father loved and told stories of- stories of a perfectly picked wife, and of a terrifying climb up the mountain Moriah and the most beautiful ram he has ever, ever seen at the most perfect moment.  A grandfather who traveled all over and was shown tremendous grace everywhere he went.

And the stage for the Exodus is being set, where God reintroduces Himself to his own people, to give them new life, again, and to reissue his same promise, again, to be their God and deliverer.

Genesis 31 

3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed.

There is a well known poem, hung in picture frames, embroidered into doilies, screen-printed onto refrigerator magnets, mirror hangers, and bookmarks all the world over that embodies the message in today’s passage.  It’s known as Footprints.   

It’s interesting that it’s so easy for me to measure my life by the things I gain or lose, the things I accomplish or quit.  Of course it’s easy.  They’re practical- tangible.  Measurable.  I require no faith for these things.

What’s so great about faith, anyways?

Jesus tells his disciples several hundred pages, and a thousand years to the right, that they could not heal simple diseases, not because they lacked power, or strength, or wisdom, but rather because they lacked faith.  He said that with as much as a mustard seed’s worth of faith, there is all the things necessary to speak to a mountain and cause it to move.  Or to part the sea.  Or to heal illness.  To raise the dead.  To cause trees to wither or bear fruit.

“Your faith has healed you.”  Jesus says this to a woman who reaches out merely to touch Jesus shawl as he passes through a throng.

“No greater faith have I found in Israel!” He exclaims to a group of watchers when a Roman stands humbly in front of Jesus seeking health for a cherished worker.

A thief, bleeding, in more pain that he has ever known possible- panic-stricken, in shock and dying on the shame-smeared and saturated Roman crux, yells across a stony plateau “Remember me!  Jesus, REMEMBER ME when you come into your Kingdom!”  No theology, no life of good acts, just a declaration.  Of faith.

“Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”  Built on the small stone of a single statement of faith that Jesus has a kingdom.  Not much of a foundation.  Or is it?

Jacob had a pocket full of these stones.

20 years he endured, removed from his parents and his ancestral grounds.  He suffered the scorn of his father-in-law, Laban, who must have known something about the predicament of Jacob’s history.  Because he took advantage of Jacob, changing the terms of their agreements at a whim.

The story has Jacob telling his wives that Laban has changed his wages 10 times, unexpectedly and unilaterally.  We remember just like it was yesterday Laban agreeing to give Jacob one daughter in marriage in exchange for 7 years of work, and then giving him the other daughter on the sly, and then agreeing to give the same daughter again, for another 7 years.

Now, those 7 years paid twice, and another 6 years, and Jacob has “earned” by virtue of their agreement much of what Laban once owned.  And now Laban’s own sons are plotting and grumbling.

Imagine what the holidays were like at that house.

But he endured.  I don’t imagine he really knew if all the things he felt were “his” would stay “his” in the end.  I suspect he felt like the rug could get yanked out from under his feet at any time.  If not by Laban, then perhaps by one of Laban’s grumbly sons.

But he endured.  In fact, by appearances, he not only endured, but he rose above the circumstances, being careful to be found above reproach (which is a new trait for Jacob if we’re calling a spade a spade).  He says that he never brought back mangled or damaged sheep, but took that burden onto his own flock.  He always paid for ever stolen item out of his own wealth.  It sounds to me like Jacob has done more than his fair share.  Never really knowing what he was actually investing into, and whether he’d see a positive return on that investment.

I think it all hinged on a solitary dream in a remote place.  I wonder if after 20 years the whole journey from his childhood home might have seemed more a dream than the dream he had?

God’s promise to Jacob is revisited when God appears again to Jacob and tells him to return to Canaan.  And just as before, the only promise that stands out is the one that is repeated  “… and I will be with you.”   Somehow that is enough for this deceitful schemer.  That in itself seems amazing to me, because  as Bono said, “Every poet is a thief,” and “it’s no secret that Liar won’t believe anyone else.”


What is awesome to me is how little God really requires!  He says “I will be with you.”  And then all that’s left is for us to believe that God’s promise is good.

The person Jacob began as can su If rvive 20 years of uncertainty and shifting ground on a dream and a promise inside a dream- I’ve got something to gain from this.  God’s way is making promises.  And he delivers for Jacob.  He delivers for Abraham.  He saved Isaac from the fire with a Ram stuck in a thicket at the very last minute.  He made a 90 year old woman pregnant and nursing.  And able to deliver a baby.  He held back the flood long enough for an old man to build a huge boat.

And he delivered a man to make good on a promise to a couple in a garden.

He promises to us that He will be with us to the end of an age.  It’s hard to measure a promise.  Really there’s only two ways to measure them; fulfilled, and not-yet.  If you’ve ever, ever seen a promise of God fulfilled- ever, you must know; there’s no unfulfilled promise.  Only not yet promises.