Nervous Christians

The text tells the story of ten tired Christians who turned into ten nervous Christians in the twinkling of an eye.

The crowds who came to hear Jesus preach were large and sometimes difficult to handle. The disciples were exhausted and Jesus realized that it was time for a rest, so he said, “Get in the boat and we will go to the other side of the lake.” As they crossed the Sea of Galilee, a squall came up and the waves broke over the boat. The disciples who had lived by the sea knew that things were out of hand. Now they were not only tired, but helpless and nervous about whether or not they were going to drown.

I believe that one has to live by the ocean and know from personal experience how ugly it can be when there is a storm. I recall such an experience growing up on the Atlantic. It was not fun to be tossed about in a small fishing boat, even though the fishermen were well acquainted with the ocean and its treacherous waves.

While all of this was going on, Jesus was in the stern of the boat sleeping. One of the nervous disciples shouted, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” This got Jesus’ attention, so He addressed the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. When all was still he asked the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

The disciples had no answer for Jesus questions, but I believe they felt they had every right to be afraid. They were convinced their lives were in danger. However, the disciples were mystified when even the waves obeyed Him. It was a miracle. Since that day on the Sea of Galilee millions have asked, “Who is Jesus?”

This is a beautiful story that many of us became acquainted with as children in Sunday school, but it is far more than a story. It teaches us a lesson about walking through the storms of life.

Like the disciples, our lives go along without any major problems for a long time. Then something happens and our seas are rough. We are in the midst of a storm. There is that helpless feeling. It is at that time we pray, “Where are you, Lord?”

It was a cold winter night in 1969. My wife, two children, and I were at home enjoying an evening together after a busy week. The doorbell rang and I went off to see who was there. To my surprise, there stood our older daughter who was a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. She had a young man with her. His hair was long and he looked like a hippie of the Vietnam era.

“Natalie!” I said with a voice filled with emotion. “How did you get here?” She replied, “We hitchhiked, Dad.” She thought we would be delighted to see her and to meet Bob, they young man she had told us so much about in letters and visits. It didn’t take her long to learn that her father was not that happy about the visit, and had already given her the impression that he was not elated with the thoughtthat someday Bob might be his son-in-law. I was the tired Christian who became a nervous Christian in the twinkling of an eye.

With a gentle voice, Natalie asked, “May we come in? It’s cold out here.” I had become so excited that she and her boyfriend had not been invited into her own home. Bob told me later that the reception was pretty cold, and I am sure that after the weekend in our home, he might have had second thoughts about getting mixed up with our family. Thank God my wife made a good impression, and Bob felt he could put up with the old man to get better acquainted with his future mother-in-law who seemed kind and loving, and was not that concerned about his hair and dress.

My little boat was being tossed about on a mighty ocean. I was in the midst of a storm. How I loved that daughter! We had done so many things together. She was gifted and I was one proud father when she was the valedictorian of her class. She wanted to attend St. Olaf College, and we made that possible, but now I wondered what her future would be.

It didn’t take God long to show me how wrong I was. Once again He quieted the waves, and once more he said, this time to me, Have you no faith? Don’t you realize that Bob has been raised in a strong Christian home? He has been taught my Word. Leave those two young people alone. I will use their talents to touch the lives of many people. What does long hair have to do with a person’s relationship with God?

Today, I want to say the sea has been quieted. We could never have asked for a finer son-in-law. He has loved our daughter. He has been a very understanding father to his children. He and Natalie have quieted many nervous parents who brought their sick children to them for medical care. They are active in their congregation, have given their talents as pediatricians among the poor in Jamaica, and anticipate other experiences on our mission fields.

You, without a doubt, could tell similar stories. I think of a close friend who was a wealthy man. In a short time, he was financially broke. When his friends asked him how he could be so upbeat in the midst of a financial crisis, he assured them it was not easy, but he wanted them to know that he still possessed the Kingdom. He was sailing over rough waters, but Christ was in the boat with him. Again Christ quieted the waters. He has learned much since his financial disaster. Today, he is back in business not as wealthy, but very happy for he has a new understanding of God’s grace.

With this text, Jesus brings us an invitation. “Come and I will give you rest.” We will have our storms. It is a part of living. But as our little boats are being tossed to and fro, Jesus is in the boat with us. Those disciples were afraid and very nervous, but they knew where to turn in the storm. They ran to Jesus. “Help us, Lord!” was their plea. Did Jesus respond? You bet He did.

Now, let’s be careful. Jesus will not always quiet the storm, but He will sail through the storms with us. Peter, one of the disciples in the boat with Him, faced difficult days. He was thrown into prison for preaching that Christ is the Savior of the world. He was finally

martyred under Emperor Nero in about the year 64. Christ did not spare Peter, but He was his strength and comfort, and He met the apostle when Peter’s life was over, welcoming him to the eternal mansion.

Is that enough to fill our souls with peace? I think so, if we will but trust Him.

A Meaningful Worship Experience

Several hundred years before Christ, there was a man by the name of Isaiah living in Jerusalem. He was married and the father of two sons. His family must have been people of prominence because he had access to the King.

As was the Jewish custom, Isaiah worshiped on the Sabbath. It was a part of his life. While Isaiah expected to be fed spiritually from these services, there is no reason to believe that he anticipated this service to be any different from any other worship experiences. But such was not the case. That day God spoke to Isaiah in a very special way which transformed his life. All of this is recorded in our text. Here you see a worship experience that started in the Temple and ended on the streets. Isaiah dates this spiritual awakening by saying, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. (1-4) Sensing the holiness, Isaiah responded, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (5)

Reading of Isaiah’s experience, have we lost this sense of holiness? Society shows us that we have. Often we hear the question, “Is there anything holy any more?” Perhaps this should not alarm us for people have worked hard to rid society of any guilt that could make us uncomfortable. If we eliminate the absolutes and make all truth relative, who can determine what is right and wrong for all people? Once people said, “The Bible says this is sin.” Today people say, “Biblical truths are no longer relevant” or “That is only your interpretation of the Bible.”

But we need not look at society. Within the Church there seems to be less emphasis on the Holiness of God. We are told that if this be the emphasis, people will be turned off to the Church. God can be referred to as “the man upstairs.” This is quite different from Isaiah’s description of God. How long ago has it been since you attended a worship service built around the theme, “God’s Holiness.”

I realize that this next point can be argued, but let me make it to express my own feelings. It bothers me to no end to see how sanctuaries are used in our day. We make halls out of buildings that were constructed and dedicated as places of worship. Here we hear God’s Word, receive His sacraments, marry our young and bury our dead. Should such a place not have an atmosphere of holiness related to it? Do we not need a place of quietness in a busy, noisy old world where we can come for meditation and quietness?

A few years ago I asked a young man to remove his cap when in the sanctuary. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind when he said, “Why?” I said, “This is the sanctuary.” He replied, “It’s just a building to me.” Now I realize that this is not a big point of emphasis, but it does play into the thought of our text the holiness of God. While I am thankful that God is my Father to whom I may come under all circumstances, does that eliminate His holiness? No, even my earthly father has an authoritative role.

It was this holiness that brought Isaiah to a conviction of guilt and unworthiness. In the midst of despair, he heard the Gospel. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (vs. 7)

Isaiah was a sinner, but God forgave his sin. There was new joy and peace in his soul. He had become a new person through this transforming experience. This is God’s greatest gift for all people. It is for that purpose Jesus came to die for our sins. For Isaiah, Christ was the Savior who was to come. For us, He is the Savior who has come and restores us into fellowship with God forever. Without the Gospel, the worship service would not be meaningful. We would go home with no hope. The preacher scolded us, and we knew we had it coming, but it would not have been a joyful time. However, when we have been released of that guilt through faith in Christ, the service is meaningful. It is an experience that needs to be repeated on a weekly basis.

Now the service is over. Out of the temple and into the streets. As Isaiah was ready to leave with new joy and peace in his heart, the voice of the Lord was saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” The service wasn’t over for Isaiah. Not until he responded, “Here am I, send me.” With that commitment, Isaiah’s life was changed. He became God’s voice speaking to his society. Without Isaiah’s positive response to go as God’s spokesman, the service would not have been complete. What we have heard is ours to share.

We have a few of those great spiritual days when God lays His hand on us in a special way. We thank Him for these days. But meeting Christ, and being reassured that He has cleansed us to serve in the Kingdom, is a daily message. Isn’t that what each meaningful service prepares us to do? Some special need of ours is met and that is what we can share with others during the week. We have been loved and now we are to love. We have been directed by the Counselor, and now we are to counsel. We have been strengthened, and now we go to strengthen others as we bring them to the throne of grace.

A meaningful worship service begins as we find ourselves in God’s presence. Having had this marvelous experience, we move into society to share His righteousness and His love with our world.

Do You Want to Be a Blessing?

Do you want your life to make a difference?

Most people would answer yes. It bothers me that my life does not count for very much. But how can that change? I am not a born leader. I don’t have wealth to support great causes. My formal education is limited and I feel inadequate among those who are highly trained academically. How can a person like me be a blessing to other people? Jesus helps us with that question in our text today.

Jesus was attending one of the great Jewish festivals which lasted several days. He was reluctant to attend this festival for fear that its timing for His ministry was not right. His brothers had urged him to go and tell the people who He was that they could see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears His message and witness His miracles.

When Jesus did arrive, many recognized Him and the tongues began to wag. Some believed He could be the Messiah. Others felt He was a dangerous person who should be watched carefully.

On the last day of the festival, Jesus began to speak. Here is a statement from one of His messages: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Can you imagine the reaction to this word from those who were among the faithful in Judaism? What is He talking about?

Jesus’ use of the word “thirsty” refers to a spiritual thirst which is a symptom that something is lacking in our relationship with God. We do not sense His presence with us.

We have real spiritual needs that are not being met. No matter how many blessings we have, there is something lacking making us restless. We have not experienced that contentment Paul talks about when he says, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content.” The world has offered us many exciting experiences and these activities have quenched our thirst for a while, but then the time comes when they do not satisfy.

Haven’t we all had these times?

Now Jesus says, speaking to you through the Scriptures, I can satisfy that thirst. Turn to Me. Let Me come into your life. Let Me speak to you daily in My inspired Word. What is impossible for you to do in changing your life, I can do. When your thirst is quenched, streams of living waters will flow through you that will touch the lives of others and God will bring blessings to their lives. Your life will count. You will bring blessings to the lives of others that money and education cannot bring.

Yes, we are reborn to be blessings in our society, but before this can happen, God must first change us. How humiliating it is to admit we cannot change ourselves. Because we believe people can change themselves, we place them in difficult situations. The alcoholic is told to stop drinking. The person who has been extremely profane for 60 years is told to clean up his language.

Here is a current example of what we expect a human being to do: On May 13 Bob Knight, one of the most successful basketball coaches in America, was chided by the officials of Indiana University for unbecoming behavior. As a result of this rebuke, Coach Knight made a statement which was printed in newspapers throughout the land. I quote part of this statement: “My temper problem is something I’ve had to deal with for as long as I can remember . . . I’ve always been too confrontational, especially when I know I’m right. I know as well as anybody does, I have to develop a more diplomatic approach. I’m not very good at just forgetting something and going on, and I am truly sorry about that. I am working on it.”

While I do not know this man, I certainly have not appreciated some of his behavior and language. But one has to respect his ability as a winning coach. To me, his statement gives the impression of a person who wants to overcome what at times is an uncontrollable temper. He wants to be a blessing. He has publicly stated he is far more concerned what his players become than wins and losses. The humanists would say, Yes, there is a power within Knight that makes it possible for him to overcome his temper. The Christian, on the basis of our text, would say that Christ is the One who can give him the power and strength to do battle with his temper and change him so that he will be a blessing to his players and those with whom he associates.

Think of your own life. What stands in the way of you being a blessing to others, especially to those who are closest to you? One of my weaknesses is a lack of patience. All too often I display the attitude, come on now, let’s move. It seems to be an impulsive drive within me that has been difficult for those who have lived close to me. My children have seen my impatience all too often. My wife sees how easily my patience can be tested. She was a person who could run circles around me. Today, she moves slowly and does not have the same capacity to get things done that once she did before having a major stroke.

I am fully aware that she is putting forth her greatest effort to do the best she can in spite of physical handicaps, but this knowledge does not keep me from showing impatience toward her. This bothers me and I resolve to be more patient and understanding, but I fall into the same old pattern of behavior. There is not within my being the power or strength that can make me a more patient individual. It is only when I turn to God for help that I begin to experience a more patient attitude. It is then I experience that Jesus’ promise can happen in my life. What He said is true, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

This is Pentecost Sunday, the third great festival of the Church. At Christmas God came to earth. At Easter He was raised to be our Savior and Lord having paid the price for our sins through His sacrificial suffering and death at the cross. At Pentecost we celebrate God coming anew in the person of the Holy Spirit to bless us by bringing us into fellowship with Him and sending us out to be a blessing in our society.

We’re In Jesus’ Prayer

A child is leaving home. The parents know the dangers and temptations their child will face away from the protected environment of home. There is nothing they can do to shield the child from the evils of this world, but their parting words are, “You’re in our prayers.”

You feel helpless as you leave the bedside of a loved one who is very ill.ÊYour parting words are, “You’re in my prayers. We know that God is

the great healer.”Ê

As you say good-bye to your mother after being at dad’s funeral, youÊassure her that you will call often and that you will pray for her daily.

It is comforting to know that people are praying for us, but it is even more comforting to know that we are in Jesus’ prayers. The seventeenth

chapter of St. John’s Gospel is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.ÊThis chapter can be divided into three parts. He first prays for Himself,Ê

then for the apostles, and lastly for all believers.

In verse 9, Jesus says, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” It is a general prayer for protection of His followers from a world that would destroy their spiritual teaching if they could. Nazism, socialism, and materialism are

examples of big enemies of Christ’s teachings. In vs. 14, Jesus gets more specific when He mentions that he has given us His Word, and the

world will hate us when we proclaim that word either verbally or in action.ÊThat Word points to Jesus as the only Savior of the world. Those who

do not trust in Christ resent this teaching. It is either too narrow or naive.Ê

In their opinion, the Gospel of Christ is an irrational teaching. In the Word,ÊJesus teaches His followers the purpose for living. Life is not simply to eat, drink and be merry. The most important goal in life is not to be among the

socially elite and financially wealthy. Jesus’ words, “What will it profit aÊperson if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” is an irrelevantÊ

question for the materialist whose life is built around “things” and whoÊgives little thought to the soul that, in his opinion, is intangible.

This world is such a threat to destroying Jesus’ disciples, that it would be natural to believe he would have us separate ourselves from its

evil influence, but such is not the case. He prays, “Father, my prayerÊis not that you would take them out of the world, but that you wouldÊ

protect them from the evil ones.” (vs. 5). He does not desire us to liveÊin a cloister.Ê

Society is our mission field. Unless we walk with people and minister to them with God’s Word, they will never be won for Christ. As theÊworld becomes more and more of a threat to destroying our relationship with God, it is easy for us to withdraw to our own group where all is safe. Christ has other plans. He wants to strengthen us to be strong men and women of God and then to move into a society that needs to hear of God’s love in Christ.

Parochialism has its place. It is necessary for us to be protected inÊthe early years of life from forces that could be harmful. For manyÊof us, the Christian home is that fortress to which we return andÊare guided by God-fearing parents. From the Christian family, we move to the congregation which supplements the home by providingÊus with a fellowship of believers who can encourage and supportÊus in our relationship with God. This is another part of that fortress.

For some Christians, parochialism needs to go farther than the home and congregation. Children are sent to parochial schools where the

student will be in a protected environment and with his or her kind of people. Parochial education begins at the elementary level and

continues through college. I have a few friends who have never had a day of public education. While this is not my recommendationÊunder normal circumstances, I respect those who believe that parochial education is extremely important in preparing people to live in our societyÊas Christ’s witnesses. But they too are willing to admit that the time eventually comes when we must leave the fortress and enter the world.ÊRemember, Jesus said, I do not ask that You take them out of the world,Êbut they be protected as they are the voice of the Gospel in a cultureÊwhere Jesus has little or no place.

Jesus continues His prayer by making this request, “Sanctify them byÊthe truth; your word is truth.” (17) He is praying that we live daily in HisÊ

Word. That means that we will read the Word and listen as God speaks to us directly. There will be no Christian growth unless we are in regular communication with our Father as He speaks to us through the Scriptures.Ê

The man who prays, “God, make me a better Christian,” but never opens his Bible, is inconsistent. God cannot strengthen us unless HeÊhas the opportunity to speak to us on a regular basis.

He continues to intercede for us by also saying, “Father, may they be one as we are one.”Ê

In the hour of trial and temptation, we need the support of Christian friends. That unity for which Christ prays goes far deeper than denominational unity. We have lived in a period of history where many Christian churches have united to become one body. The Evangelical United Brethren joined with the Methodist Church toÊbecome The United Methodist Church. Within denominationsÊthere have been mergers.Ê

In my Lutheran Church, we have spent the last forty years breakingÊdown some of the organizational lines which divided us to become

one organization. The results are that at least ten different synods are now one body known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church. HasÊthis made us a stronger witness for Christ? Some say, “Yes,” andÊothers say, “No.” One thing is certain, that was not what JesusÊwas praying for in this prayer.Ê

I have differences of opinion with friends who are Roman Catholics and others who are Baptists, but we have a oneness in Jesus Christ that far transcends any denominational loyalty.

One of my dearest brothers in Christ is a member of the WesleyanÊChurch. We have a few doctrinal differences, but the support andÊ

encouragement I have received from this dear friend in Christ isÊof great value. It does not require action by church bodies assembled in

conventions to make us one in Christ. This is the work of the HolyÊSpirit alone. I fear that we are confused at this point, and have beenÊmisled by leadership that used this portion of God’s Word to furtherÊtheir own agenda in bringing about these mergers. Have we accomplished more for the Kingdom of God with one large body? I have yet to be convinced. You may feel differently and you may be right, but let usÊagree that Jesus did not have church mergers in mind when He askedÊ

God to unite us.

Jesus is praying for us. It warms our hearts to know others are prayingÊfor us. It has to give us great confidence to know that Jesus Christ,Ê

King of kings, Lord of lords, has us on His prayer list.