Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If I'm going to vex people, Lord, grant that I'll vex them for following You

My quiet time with God today revolved around Psalm 109. It’s an imprecatory psalm in which, among other things, the psalmist prays: “Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.” (Psalm 109:6-10)

The language is jarring! It doesn’t seem consistent with biblical, Christian faith.

And, in truth, it’s not the kind of thing that a Christian should say or even think.

But, honesty compels us to admit that while we may not go as far as the psalmist does here, there are vexing people in our lives we don’t exactly wish well in our thoughts. And, if as believers, we want to lay our entire lives before God, we cannot conceal such sentiments from Him. It’s only when we acknowledge such thoughts to God (not to our neighbor), that we can be set free of the slavery that goes with grudge-holding and be set free to be the joyful people God desires for us to be.

A touchstone passage from the Psalms for me is this prayer: “Search me, God, and know my heart;  test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

We “vent” to God, whether it’s in complaining, praising, confessing, or imploring so that the free, clean air of His grace can make us new, so that He can set us free to live in closer fellowship with Him and so that our lives can give Him glory for saving us from sin and death through Jesus. When we try to sweep our ill-feelings toward others under the carpet before God, we’re really concealing reality from ourselves. After all, God already sees everything.

Jesus tells us,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44) Few of us today think of people as our enemies and, in America anyway, we don’t have anyone persecuting us. But there are people who vex us, speak ill of us, and give us a hard time. These are the people for whom Jesus says His disciples are to pray. 

I have found that the more I pray for people, the less I’m able to hold grudges, withhold forgiveness, or have ill feelings toward them. God also gives me a heart to be more understanding. But Psalm 109 and other imprecatory psalms tell me, anyway, that until I can own my ill feelings toward people, I can’t be free enough of myself to pray for their good.

Lord, today help me to be honest about all of my feelings with You. Help me to pray for others. And help me to so reflect Your love and grace that I don’t vex people for the wrong reasons. In other words, if I’m going to vex people today, grant that it will be because I’m following You and not because I’m following my own sinful impulses or feelings. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, August 13, 2018

How to Handle Your Next Crisis

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio on Sunday, August 12, 2018.]

1 Kings 19:1-8
Into every human life, times of crises come. 

Pastor H. Beecher Hicks, Jr. calls our life’s crises, storms. Like storms, crises can toss us around, make us lose our bearings, challenge our stability, make us wonder whether we’re going to go under or stand upright. Hicks says that in this life, we are either about to go into a storm, are in a storm, or have just emerged from a storm. I think he’s right.

Some of our storms--or crises--are self-inflicted through our own sin or carelessness. 

Others come from the devil. 

Others God allows in order to help us grow in our faith and character. 

Others can be caused by those in our families or churches. 

But whatever their source, crises are an inevitable part of life in this fallen and imperfect world. The real question for the Christian disciple in the midst of a crisis is not, “How can I avoid having crises in my life?” 

The question should be, “How will I handle the next crisis to come my way?”

Elijah was the greatest prophet of Old Testament times. A prophet is one who speaks God’s Word fearlessly. 

When people have wandered from God, the prophet’s job is to confront people with God’s commands. 

When people suffer or are tempted by sin or feel convicted for the sins they’ve already committed, or when they feel discouraged or overwhelmed or empty, the prophet is to speak God’s seemingly impossible Word of hope and grace and forgiveness to them. 

The prophet’s message, whether it brings comfort to those the self-righteous consider unworthy or confrontation to those who deem themselves righteous, is often viewed with skepticism or hostility. 
That means that prophets have to be confident in God, not in people. 

Prophets must be unafraid of human opposition, willing to stand with God no matter what. 

Elijah spoke God’s Word with boldness, conviction, and faith.

Yet today’s first lesson, 1 Kings 19:1-8, finds Elijah in a crisis under which he nearly crumbles. Just a short time earlier, at God’s direction, Elijah had engaged in a contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of the false Canaanite deity, Baal. Through Elijah, God showed His people once again that there is only one God and King of all creation, the God Who, today, through faith in His Son Jesus saves us from sin and death. 

The contest at Mount Carmel was the greatest triumph of Elijah’s career as a prophet, God’s proof that the words proclaimed by Elijah had, all along, been God’s Word. Elijah was vindicated and victorious! 

It was exactly at that moment that Elijah’s crisis began. Through Elijah and his experience in today’s first lesson, God can teach us how to cope with the crises in our lives.

Look at verse 1: “Now Ahab [Ahab was the seventh king of Israel, the breakaway northern kingdom that came into being after the reign of King Solomon] told Jezebel [Ahab’s wife] everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets [of Baal] with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods [notice she doesn’t acknowledge the one God of the world, as God’s people had been taught by God Himself; she worships the false idol, Baal] deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Jezebel vowed that within twenty-four hours, she would be sure that Elijah was dead.

So, how did Elijah, this great prophet, so recently victorious and vindicated, react? 

Our lesson tells us. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said.” 

Do you know the first thing that often happens to Christians when we confront a crisis? 

Our memory goes. 

Faced with temptation, we sometimes forget how destructive sin is, how it can destroy our relationship with God and harm others. 

Faced with unwelcome news or a challenging problem, we forget how God has helped us face past unwelcome news and challenging problems; we think we’re on our own. 

Faced with the reality of a sin we’ve committed, we either forget how God’s Law teaches us the seriousness of our sin or we forget that the God we know in Jesus Christ died and rose so that sinners like us can experience God’s forgiveness and live new lives.

In his moment of crisis, Elijah forgot the power of God Who had just given him victory at Mount Carmel. 

Crises may be inevitable in this life, but we always make them worse when we focus on the crisis instead of focusing on God!

Elijah focused on Jezebel when he should have focused on God. 

Elijah does turn to God. But his prayer doesn’t, at this moment anyway, mark him as a profile in courage. He prays to God: “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah prayed for the easy way out. Rather than confront his crisis, Elijah wants to be dead.

I know that feeling. When the denomination of which many of us were part fully affirmed in 2009 that it was rejecting the authority of God's Word and the truth of the Lutheran confessions, I remember telling Ann that I had been born too late; I preferred being dead to living and facing the reality that the Christian denomination in which I had so believed--so believed--had now turned from God. I could easily have been persuaded to pray a prayer like Elijah's. And, less dramatically, I have often prayed for the easy way out in my life as a Christian.

Even Jesus, God in human flesh, did this as He confronted the prospect of the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that if it were possible, God the Father would remove the cup of suffering and death from Him that He had come into the world to bear. But then Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42 “yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus knew that the only way to the resurrection is through the cross. 

The only way to make it through a crisis is to go through a crisis with the God we know in Christ and trust Him to get us to the other side

Jesus' resurrection is the certain proof for those who believe in Him that He can do this, take us through the crisis to the other side.

The next thing that Elijah did after running away from Jezebel, was sleep. Sleep can be a way of avoiding a crisis, you know, especially those crises associated with sustained depression. 

But sleep can also be part of the rest and restoration we need to face our crises. This is especially true when, like Elijah, we’ve prayed for God’s help. 

It’s true that God didn’t give the help that Elijah asked for; God didn’t bring death to Elijah. (In fact, Elijah is one of two Old Testament people who never died, but were simply transferred to heaven. In Elijah's case, I think this shows that God has a great sense of humor.) 

But when we pray for God’s help with our crises, even when we have suggestions on the type of help God may offer us, we’re really inviting God in to do what He thinks best. To reach up in helplessness and need to the God we know in Jesus Christ is to give him total access to our lives

It was good that Elijah did just that, because God had more for the prophet to do on this earth, just as I’ve learned, much to my joy and happiness, that God has had more for me to do as a pastor since those dark days nine years ago when I thought I’d be better off dead than facing the greatest crisis of my pastoral career.

Twice in the midst of Elijah’s long nap, God sent an angel to feed Elijah bread and water. The reason was simple. Verse 7: [The angel touched Elijah and said;] “‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.”

God was sending Elijah to Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, the place where God gave His Law to Moses. It was 200 miles from where Elijah was at that moment. He needed strength from God

When you’re going through a crisis, know that God has not forgotten you, even though you may sometimes forget God. Psalm 121:8 promises all who trust in God: “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Even when we confront crises.

Through Jesus and our faith in Him, as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel lesson, we already have--long before our own deaths and resurrections--life with God! That life belongs to us in times of crisis and times of calm, as we live, as we die. As was true of Elijah, God has plans for us...as individuals, as a congregation. Never forget that!

We all have either just come through a crisis, are going through a crisis, or are headed for a crisis. But we can weather our crises faithfully if we learn the lessons today’s incident from Elijah’s life teaches us: 
  • focus on God, instead of the fear induced by the crisis;  
  • commit to going through the crisis with God, rather than sidestepping it or running from it; 
  • trust that God will respond to our prayers, usually in ways we couldn’t have imagined; 
  • trust that God will give us what we need for the next step in our journeys--just as God strengthened Elijah with bread and water; and  
  • finally, trust that God has plans for us, plans that no crisis can derail.
Crises come in this world. Some may even rob of us our earthly lives. But in Christ, we have a God Who can take us through every single of them...even beyond death. His grace can give us peace and hope no matter what! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The King, Priest, and Once-for-All Sacrifice (VIDEO)

Don't know if this will be of interest to anyone, but I found it while rummaging around in my computer tonight.

I made the video while I was teaching an adult study on the New Testament book of Hebrews. Ordinarily, we recorded the sessions and posted them on the church website (http://livingwaterlutheran.us). But somehow, we missed recording the session on Hebrews, chapter 7. I decided to do the video for anyone who might be following the class online.

It's a bit cringe-worthy for me to watch. I can go on and, as my friends often remind me, it's not easy for me to keep still. But there's good news here and someone might find comfort or hope in that...because, as I say several times here, "it's so cool!"

By the way, Living Water folks, I'll be doing an adult study on the Old Testament book of Amos later in the fall.

As they might say on C-SPAN, this is about forty-two minutes long.

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Hardest, Most Essential Truth of All!

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

John 6:22-35
In today’s gospel lesson, John 6:22-35, we encounter the single most difficult truth to accept or understand about being a follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple

It’s the one thing about being a Christian that has, through the centuries, most often tripped up people of all backgrounds and experiences, sending them down all sorts of rabbit holes and blind alleys to death and life without God. 

It’s the thing about Christianity that most scandalizes the world...and many in the Church today. 

This one thing is, as Martin Luther liked to remind people, is the thing, the truth, “on which the Church stands or falls.” 

And, as I say, this truth so difficult for people to accept is the most important thing you and I can ever know, accept, or accede to, the most important thing you can hear about from this or any other pulpit.

Let’s set the stage. Over the last few Sundays, we’ve considered Mark’s telling of Jesus feeding the 5000 and its immediate aftermath. Mark tells us about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with a journalist’s economy. Mark, like a modern newsperson, produces a “first draft of history,” with the idea of getting the story of Jesus out to first-century churches, his first audience, as quickly and accurately as possible. 

The other gospel writers take their time, approaching the story of Jesus in different ways. Matthew has been described as “the scribe of the Kingdom.” Luke is a historian obsessed with prayer. John is an artist, a poet, a scholar, a theologian, steeped both in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek philosophers. 

All of the gospel writers tell us the truth that can set us free. But Matthew, Luke, and John often tell us things that Mark leaves out. In today’s lesson, John tells us more than Mark does about what happened the day after Jesus fed a throng of thousands from a few pieces of bread and some fish.

Earlier in John, chapter 6, John says that after Jesus had done this miracle, the crowd wanted to make Jesus a king. But the crowd wanted Jesus to be an earthly sort of king, the kind of king who was ruled by the whims and desires of people, who followed the latest Gallup Poll or the sentiments of his "base." 

People still approach Jesus in this way. They’ll “follow” Him or “believe in” Him, so long as Jesus conforms to their expectations, as long as He acts more like a good luck charm for their wishes rather than the Lord of their lives Who commands us to take up our crosses and follow. In recent years, we’ve seen entire Christian denominations, conservative and liberal, turn from following Jesus when they didn’t like what He had to say about sin, grace, or salvation. 

Because He never bowed to popular sentiment but only to the will of God the Father, Jesus withdrew from the crowd (John 6:15).

You remember what happened next. Jesus went to a quiet place while the apostles climbed into a boat. A storm kicked up on the lake. Jesus walked across the lake, calmed the storm, then rode to the other shore with the twelve. Although they knew nothing about all of this, the crowd wasn’t done with Jesus yet. Realizing that Jesus must have gone to the other side of the lake, they boarded boats that had just come to shore from Tiberias and headed off for Capernaum in order to catch up to Jesus. (John 6:24)

Look at what happens next, beginning in verse 25: “When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill…’” (John 6:25-26)
The Bible repeatedly affirms that God knows what’s going on inside of us, what’s in our hearts. David says in Psalm 139:1: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” Here in these verses from our gospel lesson, we get further confirmation that Jesus isn’t only a real human being, He also is really God. He sees through the motives of the crowd who have chased Him down to Capernaum. He knows their hearts. 

Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” 

“You want to use Me for your own purposes,” Jesus is telling them. “But the miracle of the loaves and fishes should have been a sign pointing you to the fact that I’m the God of all creation you’ve been claiming to believe in all your lives. Instead, you want to march to your tune. You want to use Me, not worship Me.”

But, rather than pouring scorn on the crowd, Jesus tells them: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’” (John 6:27) 

Food that’s eaten will only give us energy for a little while. Food that’s not eaten might be tossed down a disposal or rot somewhere (like in our refrigerator crispers because we forget it's there). Whatever the case, food doesn’t last forever. So, Jesus tells the crowd, it’s silly to expend the kind of effort they’ve expended in following Him across the lake just to get more food that will either rot or go away. 

What we really need is the “food that endures to eternal life.”

When Jesus says this, the crowd is curious, like the woman at the well to whom Jesus mentioned “living water.” Verse 28: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” (If you have your Bibles with you, you might want to underline John 6:29.)

That, friends, is the single most difficult truth to accept or understand about being a follower of Jesus Christ. To receive the food that endures to eternal life, the living bread from heaven, the living water, life with God that never gives out and never ends, there’s nothing we can or have to do. 
  • We don’t have to strain to be good people, although when we have the food that never gives out, we will want to be good people. 
  • We don’t have to memorize fifty Bible verse, though when you recognize that the Bible is God’s living Word, you will want to know it better. 
  • We don’t have to intone magic words. 
Our work is simply and only to believe in the One sent by God, to trust in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord

As Jesus famously told Nicodemus (say it with me): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) 

In other words, we are justified--our right to exist in the sight of God despite our sins--is secured simply and only and exclusively by God's grace through our faith--our belief--in Jesus Christ

When we believe in Jesus, God makes us new. God makes us His. “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) It’s as simple as that!

But, we may say, wanting to complicate things as we human beings always seem to do, there must be more to Christian discipleship than that? 

No, Jesus says our one and only work is no work at all; it’s simply to believe in Him

But, we may object, aren’t we supposed to serve, aren’t we supposed to do good works, to pray? 

If you keep turning from sin and trustingly believing in Jesus, you will serve, you will do good works, you will pray. In fact, your whole life and all of your priorities will be turned upside down. 

You’ll run from your sins and run into the arms of Jesus. 

That’s because the more you turn to Jesus, the more you will believe in Jesus. And the more you believe in Jesus, the more Jesus will rub off on you

A high school friend of ours told me several years after I had come to faith in Christ, “You’ve changed, Mark. You seem more centered, focused.” I appreciated his words, but I hadn't thought about any of that before.

People will tell Christians who keep trusting in Jesus things like this all the time: 

“You’ve changed." 

"You’re more loving." 

"You’re calmer." 

"You seem to have more peace in your life." 

"You’re a better listener." 

"You seem more able to handle the tough stuff.” 

As you walk in trust with Jesus and people say things like that to you, you likely won’t know what to say, unaware of the changes that have come to you because you’ve fallen into Jesus’ orbit...simply because you believe in Him

As we keep trusting in Jesus Who justifies us, He also sanctifies us. That is, He will transform us from the inside out. He will make us holy. He will set us aside for God’s purposes and we will live with greater confidence. 

Paul describes what happens to those who believe in Jesus in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “...we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

And it’s all rooted in simply believing in Jesus, the most important truth any of us can ever know or grasp hold of

Do you find it hard to believe? 

Turn to Jesus and tell Him about it. (He knows already anyway. Just be honest with Him.) Jesus is anxious to turn our availability into faith in Him, the faith we need to live in Him. He will help us believe. 

And, as the Bible reminds us, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame." (Romans 10:11)

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The One Who Makes the Impossible Inevitable

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Mark 6:45-56
Not many days before I walked into the hospital for a visit, I’d spoken with a parishioner dealing with a number of health and personal issues. In that conversation, I'd asked, “Could I pray with you?” “No,” he answered, “no need for that. I’ve got things worked out.” 

Now, at the hospital, a man I’d never met saw me. “Sir,” he said. “Are you a priest or a pastor or something?” “Yes,” I answered. He told me, “I’ve never been one for church. A few times when I was a kid. But my wife is really sick. They don’t know if she’s going to make it. Could you pray for her?” 

I suggested that we pray right then and there. And we did. 

I don’t know what happened to the non-churchgoing man’s wife. But I do know this: In the space of a few days, I’d witnessed the faith of someone who lived outside the fellowship of the Church and an apparent lack of faith in someone who was in worship every single Sunday.

It’s essential for us to be part of Christ’s Church, of course. As we will be reminded in our upcoming series, I Am a Church Member, being a member of a church isn’t anything like belonging to Costco, nothing like belonging to an investment club or even a service club, nothing like joining a country club. In each of those cases, members speak of what they get out of belonging. But, like our Savior Jesus, you and I are part of Christ’s Church not to be served, but to serve. 
As a Columbus friend told us over dinner on Friday night, “Church isn’t about what you get out of it, but what you put into it.” 

To use Saint Paul’s imagery, you and I are members of the Church in the same way that our feet and eyes and brains and ears are parts of our bodies. Each person has his and her own indispensable role to play if the Church is to be all that it’s meant to be. 

And we Christians need the Church. The preacher in Hebrews says: “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord [the day of Jesus’ return to make all things right] is coming nearer.” (Hebrews 10:25, Good News Translation

According to Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession, one of our Lutheran movement’s basic explanations of Christian faith, the Church exists wherever the gospel--the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus--is rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--are rightly administered. Where that happens, where Church happens, there is life with God in Christ. 

But as the parishioner who refused to pray on the grounds that he had everything taken care of already shows, not everyone who occupies a place on church membership rolls is a member of Christ’s Church. Not every person who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. As Corrie ten-Boom’s father explained after their pastor refused to help Jews escape Nazi-occupied Netherlands, “Just because the mouse is in the cookie jar doesn’t make him a cookie.”

And truth be told, all of us who do believe in Jesus Christ and seek to live out our membership in Christ’s body with faithfulness struggle to be faithful in the face of life’s challenges

We see that in today’s gospel lesson, Mark 6:45-56. In it, we see that the group of disciples we know as apostles, God’s sent ones who would be charged after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven with leading the Church in spreading the gospel, had trouble believing in, trusting in, Jesus. Meanwhile, others found it easy, at least at some level, to believe in Him.

Take a look at our lesson, please. It begins: “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.” 

Jesus has just fed the 5000, probably, as we talked about last Sunday, upwards of 10,000, from a few fish and scraps of bread. Jesus had accomplished the impossible. But that moment is over and Jesus is now sending the crowds and the disciples away so that He can spend time with God. Listen: If you think that you’re going to accomplish anything of significance in your life--with your family, your work, without God, you would be foolish

Jesus was God in the flesh. Yet He knew that if He was going to complete his mission on earth, He needed to go to His Father first. That’s no less true for you and me. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” Jesus tells we members of His Church, individually and corporately. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Back to our gospel lesson verse 47: “Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost.” 

Long before the apostles thought about Jesus, before they considered crying out for His help, He observed their struggles. So, why didn’t He do something as soon as He saw them struggling? Why doesn’t Jesus just go ahead and fix the bad stuff He sees happening in our lives? 

The complete answers to those questions are way above my pay grade. But I do know this: Jesus goes to those who are open to Him

That same Columbus friend told us over dinner on Friday of reading about a Muslim who had been asked by a Christian friend on four different occasions to come to church with him and refused, more sternly with each invitation. But after the fifth invitation was made, the Muslim said, “Yes.” 

What had changed? It turns out that each night after his Christian friend invited him to church, the Muslim man had a vivid dream in which he was pointed to strange words. He’d come to know the words by heart, but had no idea what they meant. The dream seemed to have a connection to the invitation. 

When the Muslim recited the words from the dream to his Christian friend, it turned out to be a passage from the Gospel of John. His friend explained the meaning of the words and soon, the Muslim became a disciple of Jesus. 


Because that Muslim man was open to Jesus. Jesus goes to those open to Him

Despite witnessing Jesus do what only God had ever done before--feeding a hungry mass of people in the wilderness with what seemed like nothing, as God had done with manna for ancient Israel, the apostles couldn’t imagine that it was Jesus was God or that He was actually walking next to their floundering boat

They preferred a superstitious explanation--that this was a glost--to the explanation that made the most sense. Their miracle-working Teacher was God and was offering Himself to them, if only they would be open to Him. 

How many things do we unnecessarily struggle with in life because we can’t imagine that Jesus is walking beside us? 

How many circumstances fill us with fear because we refuse to believe that Jesus means it when He says, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)? 

How often do we fail to believe the promise of Scripture that, “...all things [All things? Yes, all things; even the bad things. All things that happen in this fallen, imperfect world...] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

As I age, as I struggle with situations in my life, even when I die, if I will keep loving the Savior Who loved me first, I believe that God will bring good things about...even if I personally, in this life, never experience it. Even if my faithful pursuit of Jesus only does good for people I will never meet this side of heaven, like the people who can be touched by the ministry of this congregation if we remain faithful in following Jesus!

Verse 49b: “...They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified [not comforted, not encouraged, not hopeful, but terrified]. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down [Just as in Genesis, the storms of primordial chaos died at the touch of God the Holy Spirit].” (Mark 6:49-51) 

Then these incredible words. Read them carefully, please: “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51-52) 

The apostles were amazed. But, when you think about it, they shouldn’t have been! In the loaves and the fishes they had seen that Jesus is God. Jesus can take control of the chaos in our world, take control of the elements of our lives. Jesus can do the impossible. He tells us, “...nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, English Standard Version) The apostles should have known this by now. Amazed by Jesus' grace, yes. Amazed by His love for them, His patience with them, of course. But amazed that He could walk on a stormy sea right beside them? Not if they'd been paying attention!

Believers in Jesus are called to lay aside their skepticism, their fears, their limited imaginations and stop being amazed by the fact that Jesus is not just a man, but also God, and start believing in Him. Going where He leads. Doing what He calls us to do. 

The Lord Who conquered sin and death tells us, “Take courage! It is I. [I’m here.] Don’t be afraid.” Once they crossed over the lake and landed at Gennesarat, the apostles were once more shown Who Jesus is: The God of all creation Who can bring healing and help, even when all seems hopeless.

Every day, the risen, living Jesus offers Himself to us. 

When Christ called me to faith, I resisted. I had my own ideas. 

When He called me to pastoral ministry, I resisted. I had my own plans. 

When I interviewed with the call committee of Living Water, I told Ann, “There’s no way they’re going to call me to be their pastor.” 

But when you let Jesus into your life, when you dare to get close to Him each day, He accomplishes the impossible. If he saved a wretch like me, you know that's true!

Whatever storm, challenge, or growing season our Savior Jesus calls us to go through, with Him we will go through it. 

Whatever impossible thing He sets out to do through us, He will do. 

Jesus tells all the disciples in His Church, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20) 

Every single moment, in all things, let Jesus into your life, your decision-making, your church, your nation, your world; that’s when His will is done and His kingdom comes. When we trustingly ask Jesus into anyplace, the impossible becomes inevitable. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]