Monthly Archives: June 2009

Dodgy Funeral Director

I’ve received an email overnight from a trusted friend, alerting me and other ministers to the fact that a funeral director with a very questionable history appears to be operating again. He has evidence of his activity in Woking in May.

The man’s name is Richard Sage. His companies are either called DFS, Direct Funeral Services or St Christopher’s – the last one being a business run from his villa on the Costa del Sol, offering funerals to expatriate British citizens.

If you come across him, beware. There is a seven-minute report on him from the BBC TV show Watchdog last November available here.

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Anonymous Commenters

In one of my recent posts, three people have commented anonymously with basically invented names and invented email addresses. I tracked two of them down to a certain extent, but there seemed to be no reason for their anonymity. I can understand taking the anonymous route in certain limited circumstances, but generally I don’t think it’s defensible. And if I thought the commenters were being libellous, I’d block their contributions anyway.

So – as I’ve asked in a comment on that post – do other bloggers have any thoughts or a particular policy on anonymous commenting? I’d be grateful for any thoughts, because I’m beginning to think I might need to formulate a policy, and at this stage I’m inclined towards banning them.

But maybe I’m just being reactionary and over the top. What do you think?

Sabbatical Presentation

Today I gave a presentation to one of my churches based on my recent sabbatical. By popular request (two people), I am uploading the PowerPoint here:

Sabbatical Presentation

Be warned, it’s a 14.7 MB download. If you don’t have PowerPoint or OpenOffice Impress (from the free OpenOffice suite), you can view this with the free PowerPoint Viewer.

Sermon: Exercising Faith

Mark 5:21-43

Nineteen seventy: a terrible year for music. It was the year that songs by football teams took off. Not only did Chelsea FC inflict ‘Blue is the colour’ on the nation when they reached the FA Cup Final, the England team heading to Mexico to defend the World Cup assaulted our ears with ‘Back home’. Does anyone else have painful memories of those songs? (Not that as a Spurs fan I can be too superior, given the Chas and Dave songs my team put out in later years!)

Back home: Jesus is back home in this reading. He has come back from the eastern side of Lake Galilee, where people compromised Jewish faith with other influences. He’s on home territory. The fanboys are out – on this side of the lake he’s surrounded by a crowd, rather than suffering people asking him to leave as soon as possible, as happened when he cast the demons from the Gerasene demoniac into a herd of very non-Jewish pigs. Maybe you could say he is in a more pastoral than missional context here. (Although you’ll often be surprised how missionary you need to be in pastoral situations!)

Back home, people are in need and in desperation are showing the depth of their faith in Jesus. Both the woman with the issue of blood and Jairus, facing the death of his daughter, display extraordinary faith. I’d like us to explore these well-known stories with the goal of increasing our own faith in Christ, too.

Touch
On Thursday morning, we were walking the children into the school playground when Mark ran to follow Rebekah. However, he tripped up over Debbie’s foot and gashed both knees. He ended up in Injuries before he was in his classroom that morning. Although he had a plaster on for a few hours, we’ve tried as much as possible to let the air get to the wound, even though it has wept and left marks on bed blankets.

Rebekah has had her usual big-sister-cum-little-mummy concerns for her younger brother. However, we have had to tell her not to touch Mark’s knees! It’s just the latest example among many where as parents we’ve had to issue the ‘Don’t touch’ command. You can, I’m sure, think of many examples where you have had to say ‘Don’t touch’ to a child, because you are concerned about hygiene. They don’t understand about invisible germs, and you scream ‘Don’t touch’ in order to prevent the risk of infection.

Jewish faith had a strong ‘Don’t touch’ component to it, too. There were certain objects – or people with certain conditions – that you didn’t touch, for fear of spiritual infection as much as anything else. In our story, both the woman with the bleeding and the dying twelve-year-old girl fell into this category. The woman’s blood made her ritually unclean. Anyone touching her would also be unclean. The same was true of a dead body – and remember that by the time Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, the girl is dead. Neither should be touched. Not unless you wanted to be isolated for a period of days before having a check-up with the priest.

And what does Jesus do? He welcomes the touch of the bleeding woman, and he touches the hand of the dead girl. Jesus disregards any thought that he would become ritually contaminated, because he knows that through the touch, God has healed the woman and he will heal the girl. Jesus sees the power of God to heal as greater than any contaminating power. To Jesus, God’s power and love are not equal opposites to sin and darkness: they are greater. The ‘Don’t touch’ rules put both the woman and the girl outside the orbit of help and healing: Jesus, by embracing the need for touch, brings them within that orbit and they are made whole again.

This is good news! If there is something we feel unclean about, Jesus wants to touch it with healing. If it is something that ostracises us, or we think will ostracise us if others know about it, again Jesus wants to heal it with his touch. Perhaps there is a secret we harbour, one that we don’t feel we even dare share with friends at church, because we think it will lead to us being cut off socially from others or spiritually from God.

Obviously I have a privileged position as a minister, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many such secrets exist in congregations. Well, Jesus says, be ashamed no longer. Fear not. In his presence the risk of contamination is zero. Come to him, even if you tremble like the woman with the haemorrhage, because his touch will heal you. No longer need you struggle with shame or rejection. In the grace of God, wholeness is yours. Fear no more: Jesus’ only desire for you is healing.

This good news also creates a challenge for the church. If Jesus wants to touch untouchables with his love and healing, then we are called to be a community that accepts people. We truly need to be a safe space for folk. It might involve people who don’t know the usual social graces, or those whose background is unacceptable. It might be their appearance or some other socially unacceptable feature or condition.

By way of just one example, I read these words last Saturday in the TEAR Fund prayer diary:

Similar to many countries around the world, stigma is one of the biggest challenges for people living with HIV in Ireland. Pray for Tearfund partner ACET Ireland, who provide practical and emotional care for individuals affected by drugs. Pray that Christians in Ireland will demonstrate the unconditional love of Christ to all those affected and that local churches will become the safest places for people living with HIV.

Wow. What a challenge: ‘that local churches will become the safest places for people living with HIV’. But if our faith is in the healing touch of Jesus to restore those whose conditions have severed their social and spiritual links, then this is just the sort of aspiration a community centred on faith in Jesus will have.

Tension
I don’t know whether you’ve ever engaged in a practice such as Ignatian Bible Study, where you are invited to imagine yourself as one of the characters in a biblical story. Whether you’ve done that or not, perhaps you recognise that in certain stories you instinctively identify with one person.

In this story, I identify with Jairus. It’s not his position of influence and authority: it’s the fact that he is the father of a little girl. Ever since I became a parent, stories like this one tug at my heart strings much more than they used to. I can’t read about Jairus without thinking, what if it were my Rebekah? It gets me every time.

And I think that if I were Jairus, I’d be emotionally all over the shop when Jesus stopped to identify the woman who had touched him. Jesus, that’s nice but there’s no time to waste, I’d say. Every second counts if you’re to heal my daughter! Can’t you come back later and speak to this lady? Frankly, my desperation would reach warp speed.

But when the bearers of bad news come with the news that the little girl has passed away, Jesus says to Jairus, ‘Do not fear, only believe’ (verse 36). He’s got to be kidding, hasn’t he?

Except Jesus views the girl’s death in the light of what he is going to do (which is why he says she is only sleeping and why he later dismisses the mourners). And he takes Jairus on an extraordinary journey of faith. It’s one where Jairus holds together two things in tension: one is trust in Jesus, the other is that he unflinchingly stares at the darkness. His faith doesn’t lead him to ignore the darkness or pretend it isn’t there. And the darkness doesn’t extinguish his faith.

The other day, I read a piece by Michael Hyatt, the Chief Executive Officer of the American publishers Thomas Nelson. He was reflecting on the euphoria in many quarters when Barack Obama won the Presidential election last November, contrasted with the perilous economic situation the new President would inherit, typified by his election being followed by the biggest post-election decline in the American stock market. He said that the glass was both half empty and half full, and went on to say this:

In times like these, leaders must do two things simultaneously:

  1. Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.
  2. Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

You see it again, just like Jairus: prevailing faith and an embrace of the darkness.

Hyatt went on to recount a story that the business guru Jim Collins tells in his famous book ‘Good To Great’. Collins refers to ‘The Stockdale Paradox’, and tells about a man called Admiral James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war for eight years during the Vietnam War.

After his release, a reporter asked Admiral Stockdale, “How in the world did you survive eight years in a prisoner of war camp?”

He replied,

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that we would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event in my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

The reporter then asked, “Who didn’t make it out?” Admiral Stockdale replied,

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. They were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come and go. Then they’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.” And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Collins then goes onto state that an attribute of truly great companies and great leaders is that they are able to embrace simultaneously these twin truths of their current reality and their ultimate triumph.

Jairus had that kind of faith in the best form: a Christ-centred form. Jairus had a desperate plight and a deep faith. Neither escapism nor despair.

Is that what we need? Often I think it is. Perhaps it is a circumstance in our own lives – our health, or troubles facing a family member. Jesus calls us both to look into the abyss and also trust him for ultimate victory.

Perhaps it is about the state of the church. Numbers keep going down. We find it harder to cover every essential task in church life. Jesus calls us to admit honestly the difficulties we are in, and at the same time to trust him that we know the final outcome, which is not the obliteration of God’s people but the final victory of Christ. It may be getting darker, but we are heading towards the dawn.

It was the same for Jesus himself. On the one hand he embraced the darkness. The Gospels tell us he set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem. He warned his friends he faced betrayal, rejection, suffering and a cruel death. But he did so, knowing by faith in his Father he would prevail in the conquest of death, leaving behind an empty tomb.

Conclusion
Friends, we are the community of faith – faith in our crucified and risen Lord. Let us embrace that faith to receive the touch of Jesus that heals our woundedness and shame, and let us offer that touch to society’s rejects as we make church a safe space for the hurting.

And in crying out for that touch, we acknowledge we shall travel on a journey filled with tension. We shall hold in tension both the darkness and the deepest faith. It is the way Jesus himself walked. Let us have the courage to walk that way, too, knowing it is the road to his triumph.

Michael Jackson: Death Of A Child-Man

I was no fan of Michael Jackson. His Off The Wall album was popular with friends whose musical taste I hated. I could admire it but not love it. Although I have to admit I still turn up the radio every time the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back comes on – it has an extraordinary energy:

I first learned of his cardiac arrest via Breaking News on Twitter. Going over to the BBC News site, I saw live streaming of BBC News 24 with tickertape along the bottom of the screen saying that TMZ and then (more reliably?) the LA Times reported he was dead. From that moment on, it was unusually difficult to reload the BBC News front page – something that seems to have been a problem across the Internet.

I sincerely hope we won’t hear too much of the stand-up comics who gained laughter by cruelty towards Jackson (a.k.a. Wacko Jacko). His actions were disturbed and disturbing at times, but in a righteous world there would have been compassion for such a damaged man. The one who first came to fame in childhood never, it seems, outgrew that childhood. Abuse from his father and the pressures of extraordinary fame were all loaded on a fragile person. Time and again in ‘ordinary life’ I have encountered people who were damaged as children, and who did not deal with it. As a result, they were left as emotional children in adult bodies. It would never surprise me if that had happened on a large scale to Jackson.

Indeed, you wonder how much of the bizarre behaviour arose from the wounds inflicted by his father’s abuse. Is this why he acted inappropriately towards children and even his own son? And the quasi-messianic we-are-the-world/heal-the-world/earth-song stuff such as this infamous occasion?

Plenty of entertainers have been so cocooned they’ve lost touch, but this was the phenomenon in extremis. Had he so protected himself from possible pain that this was the result? What was he thinking – the white clothing and the crucifixion pose around seven minutes in? And what was Jarvis Cocker thinking, not only to protest (fine) but to ‘moon’ in front of small children? I might not have wanted Jackson near my kids (had I had any in 1996) but neither would I have wanted a Jarvis near them. Too many Britpop drugs, by the look of it. I can understand the criticisms of Jackson and children, but why not of Cocker, too, and not simply from Jackson fans?

No: while I’m not totally sure about the old maxim ‘Never speak ill of the dead’, I have always been moved by the fact that one of the things the early Christians did was to ensure that people had a decent burial, especially those who would not have had one. Financially, I imagine that even with the debts Jackson racked up, a ‘decent burial’ is not a problem from that angle. But from another angle it is a problem: we could all give him a decent burial by being restrained and compassionate in our comments about him at this tragic time.

Todd Bentley: What Does Restorative Discipline And Repentance Look Like?

I have been sitting on this post for three days. I’ve fiddled with it, wondered whether to publish it, but in the end I’ve decided to go ahead. Feel free to make constructive comments in response.

On Tuesday, Bill Kinnon linked to the latest sign of Todd Bentley’s return to public ministry. He has a new website that is a variation on his old ministry’s name. There is much talk on it of ‘restoration’. To me, it still looks like Bentley is rushing/being rushed (delete as applicable) back into the public arena.

Now I have to say I like the word ‘restoration’ when it comes to church discipline. It is Jesus’ intention. Church discipline is not violent vengeance. The aim is not ultimately to condemn but to bring someone’s life back in order in relation to God and the church. However, if some talk more about discipline than restoration, there is more talk about restoration than discipline on the new site, insofar as I can see. (Do tell me if I am wrong.) Yes, there are passing references to Bentley’s fall and the damage caused, such as in this article. However, it is also peppered with references to Bentley having ‘lingered with the Word Face-to-face’, so he still seems to claim Moses-like stature for his spiritual experiences. And that makes me nervous. Not because I deny the possibility of such experiences, but because it looks like they are being used to validate the spiritual superhero. How can you argue with someone who claims such an experience? It’s the charismatic trump card.

I see the references to having fallen from grace and past mistakes and so on, all on the same page that advertises all sorts of product. Guys I’m sorry, please give me eighteen dollars. What would be ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’, though? Some of it depends on how you weigh the thorny question of divorce and remarriage. I am not an ‘indissolublist’ (one who believes that any subsequent marriage after a divorce while the first spouse is still alive is automatically adulterous, because all marriages last for life whatever happens). I believe that the New Testament exemptions for divorce under certain circumstances only make sense if they end the marriage and leave the wronged partner free. Indeed, that was the position of my own wife when we first met. (See this sermon for an exposition of a relevant passage.)

But to me, I struggle to see how such exemptions could be relevant to someone like Bentley, although if I am right they would be true for his ex-wife Shonnah. From what I know (and I have to acknowledge there may be more that is rightly being kept from the public eye for the sake of Bentley’s children and ex-wife), I would normally expect that the Christian thing for Bentley to do would be to remain celibate. Sex is not a right; it is a gift. The same is true of ministry.

(By the way, I am not alleging that Bentley caused marital breakdown by actual adultery. I do not know, and I do not wish to pry. But what is undisputed is that it was the emotional involvement with another woman, and that has led to a new bond that should not have been made.)

There is an issue of public scandal to be addressed for the sake of public witness. For example, I have seen churches act decisively when scandal has rocked their congregations and their witness in the community. That such churches took action was respected by those non-Christians who had wondered about the standards of the church. Had the church not done so, there would have been a legitimate charge of hypocrisy. I don’t see an equivalent action in this case. Yes, Bentley had to step down from Lakeland immediately. But in only a few months he’s back back back. Is that right?

I am also aware that the ‘mainstream’ Christian Church has not always acted with integrity in this area. I know of an instance where a minister left his wife for another woman, whom he then married, and he was allowed to remain in the ministry. What message that sends to his ex-wife is deeply troubling.

And there is also then everybody else’s situation. None of us is without sin. Who can cast the first stone? If I am not perfect, what sin am I entertaining? How do we distinguish between the struggles we all have and outright flaunting of God’s word? Are there different degrees of sin? These for me are the most difficult questions of all. However, they cannot be used to disallow any possibility of discipline. The same Gospel – Matthew – that says ‘Judge not’ also has the clearest passages on church discipline. People have been clearly wronged. Relationships have been damaged. Injustice has happened here. The Gospel has been brought into disrepute. That must be addressed.

And if I am so imperfect, why even write about this? (I could even be writing for poor motives – like getting more hits for my blog.) That is because this whole sorry saga has unfolded in public and in the light of the massive public claims Bentley and others made about the Lakeland movement and the like, all of which were discredited by the actions of certain ‘apostles’ and Bentley himself. Following that, the restoration process is being played out like a reality TV show on the web. And as I’ve said before, you don’t do pastoral care like that. Right now, you still have to wonder what the motives are for getting Bentley back on platforms so soon. I continue to have some very cynical ideas about why, and I wish I didn’t.

UPDATE, 26th June, 2:00 pm: Maggi Dawn has a post here and she ends with some prescient words:

Rick Joyner’s voice welcomes you to the website, bigging it up with “God mobilising”, at this “strategic time”, “miracle power”, etc etc. There are links galore to Bentley’s teaching, and you can buy his books, and invite him to minister. OK, so allegedly he isn’t actually taking UP any invitations right now, as he is still in a period of “restoration”… still, you don’t launch a new website when you aren’t planning your comeback, do you?

That’s rather how I feel about the invitation/not taking up invitations issue.

links for 2009-06-24

Witness At The Family Fun Day

On Saturday, we held our annual church family fun day. A bouncy castle, crafts, treasure hunt, a children’s entertainer and the like – all offered free of charge to the local community. Today, I heard about some of the great conversations that occurred on the day, and it inspired me to write about our witness for the church magazine. What follows picks up on that experience and is heavily influenced by Neil Cole‘s book Organic Church

“Why do you do this?”

No, not a question of despair, but one asked several times by visitors to our recent Family Fun Day. (And let me add to my children’s public thank-you of Dianne for her tremendous organisation of the day.)

Why do you do this? Why do you put on an event free of charge, with no strings attached? They are good questions, just the ones we wanted people to ask. And they are easy to answer if we know the Gospel. We say, God is like this. God gives love unconditionally. He wants people to respond, but he gives in the first place. He gives, whether we give back or not.

Obviously, we hope that as a result people will engage with us more through events like Holiday Club and Messy Church as a result. We hope, too, that we might be known in the community as a group of people whose actions in love provoke regular “Why do you do this?” questions, not just for what we put on together as a church, but from the deeds of our individual lives.

Yes, it’s easy to answer these questions. You don’t need to have studied academic Theology like I have in order to give good answers. All you need is a personal experience of Christ in your life. Because we answer out of our own spiritual experience, and relying on the Holy Spirit. There is a place for intellectually defending our faith, but it’s not everyone’s calling.

Sometimes we’ve made it too hard to be an effective Christian witness. We’ve expected people to jump the hurdles of church committees and study courses before trusting them to say anything in the name of Christ.

What poppycock! Jesus healed people or led them to faith and then sent them out immediately to tell their friends and families what they had experienced. How crazy we are to think we know better than him!

Yes, it’s right to look for maturity, but if we think maturity comes from sitting in a classroom reading a textbook, we are deluded. Maturity comes from experience.

So I want to encourage you all in this simple message this month. What is your experience of Christ? Recount it. Write it down, if it helps.

And cultivate that quiet reflectiveness that listens for the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If we went out into the local community like that, we wouldn’t need fancy programmes, we wouldn’t need massive budgets, we’d have the richest resource of all: the Spirit of Christ.

Remember: we may not all be evangelists, but we are all witnesses. And witnesses simply have to describe what they have seen and experienced. It’s surprisingly powerful, even when engaging the most intellectual of people.

Do you think we can rise to the occasion? I think so.

links for 2009-06-23

Sermon: The Storm On The Lake

Mark 4:35-41

It has famously been said that women can’t read maps and men won’t ask for directions. Which means that if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, we’re all going to have trouble getting home!

Maps and directions: geography. I don’t know whether the word ‘geography’ brings bad memories back to you, in the way that ‘Maths’ or ‘PE’ do to some. I was OK at Geography, and got my O-Level, but I never really shone at it. Sadly, most of what I remember from school Geography lessons consists of the cruel tricks played by pupils on our teacher, who was blind.

On the other hand, Mark [our four-year-old] is already fascinated. He writes his own little books at home, which are full of references to the River Nile, the longest river in the world. I think I just need a sat-nav!

So why am I wittering on about Geography? Because it is important in the Gospels, and it has a particular rôle to play in this story. I’m going to use some geographical features of the reading to structure these thoughts. I think they’ll show this story has a slightly different meaning from the one we often take it to mean.

The Other Side
‘Let us go across to the other side,’ says Jesus (verse 35). Where is the other side? At this point, Jesus and his followers are on the western side of Lake Galilee, among villages where the people are good faithful Jews. ‘The other side’ is very different. You can get an idea if you know where Jesus and the disciples land in the story that immediately follows this one. They encounter the Gerasene demoniac, who lives among people who are pig farmers. Not exactly kosher Jews! Not only is the demoniac unclean, so are the general population. This whole area to the east of Galilee was one where Jewish people generally mixed and compromised their faith with alien influences from Greek culture.

Jesus is saying to his friends, “We can’t just stay among the people like us, those with whom we feel comfortable. We must move into other territory to advance the kingdom of God.”

And Jesus says the same to his twenty-first century friends. We too cannot stay just among the people we are comfortable with, because they are like us. We cannot spend all our time in church activities. If we are the community formed by God’s kingdom, then we have to leave our familiar places and go to our ‘other side’, wherever that may be. Insulation is not guaranteed in the life of faith.

Jesus calls us, then, not to spend every second of our lives on church matters. He calls us to mix with people not like us at all, with the intention of sharing God’s love in word and deed. They may not dress like us. They may have strange haircuts. They may hold beliefs we find dreadful. Their moral and ethical values may be far from ours, perhaps quite contrary. But Jesus died for each and every one of these people. We cannot stay in a church castle, protected by a moat and with the drawbridge up.

For Debbie and me, while we enjoy the company of those we mix with in the children’s primary school community, and while the great majority of the parents care deeply for their children and want only the best for them and others, we are also aware at other times that our values and beliefs are very different. We only know of one other Christian family represented in Rebekah’s class, and to date we know of none in Mark’s. But that’s good: it means we are in a missional context! It means we mix with people who don’t share our values about sexuality, with mothers whose children are all by different fathers. It means having to do with people who are heavily involved with questionable New Age and occult practices.

So while we share some things in common as fellow parents, obviously there are certain things that mark us out as different and leave us decidedly uneasy about the lifestyles of these friends. Yet this is our ‘other side’ at times. It is where God has led us and placed us as ‘the church dispersed’.

I believe each of us needs to know the ‘other side’ to which we are called. If we know our ‘other side’, all well and good. If not, then we need to listen, because Jesus is calling us into the boat with him and taking us somewhere beyond our usual boundaries on mission with him.

The Storm
Here’s the next geographical feature, the storm on the lake. One commentator says:

The Sea of Galilee, surrounded by high mountains, is like a basin. Sudden violent storms on the sea are well known. Violent winds from the southwest enter the basin from the southern cleft and create a situation in which storm and calm succeed one another rapidly. Since the wind is nearly always stronger in the afternoon than in the morning or evening, fishing was done at night. But when a storm arises in the evening, it is all the more dangerous.[1]

The storm was a natural, unsurprising event, yet a terrifying  and life-threatening one. So it is that when we head for our ‘other side’ storms will blow up against us. The other day I was talking to a minister friend in another denomination. He said he had been at his church eight years, and was dedicated to seeing it transformed from a private religious club to a missionary agency. But he said that process was a painful one. Some people just didn’t want to be thrust out of their comfort zones and stirred up opposition.

Similarly, it’s not surprising when the Church moves into the public arena, that atheists and secularists complain, especially if we happen to be moving onto some of their cherished territory. They say that religion should be kept as a private matter. Some even try to use laws against Christians. Some Christians believe we’re seeing signs of that in some legislation in our nation today.

And it’s interesting to see how Jesus responds to the storm when he is woken from his peaceful slumber. Listen to the language of verse 39:

‘He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.’

Does rebuking the wind and telling the sea to be still sound familiar? Jesus is addressing this storm, this natural event, as if it were demonic. Rebukes and commands to be quiet are the language he used when expelling demons.

We should not be surprised if storms whip up in our lives, often consisting of natural but frightening events, when we decide to cross with Jesus to our ‘other side’ and engage in mission. We are joining battle against an enemy when we do so. He will not take it lying down. He will use church people, non-Christians and social events in attempts to discourage and intimidate us. To paraphrase the late John Wimber, our boat is not a cruise liner; it is a battleship. We can expect storms of opposition. But we must not cower in their face.

The Calm
The storm is a natural event, as I said, but the language Jesus uses to still it (the stilling of such storms also being known as natural events in those days) suggests this natural event has been whipped up by demonic forces opposed to his mission with the disciples to a region of compromised allegiance to God.

Jesus stills such a storm. He commands it to be calm. Jesus acts with the cosmic authority that is his. This is a kingdom of God action. He brings the storm under the reign and purposes of God. The kingdom is at work here, not simply to make the disciples’ lives easier, but so that the kingdom may advance when Jesus and the disciples land on ‘the other side’.

Jesus has himself been calm,

sleeping in the stern upon the pillow that was customarily kept under the coxswain’s seat for those who were not involved in the actual sailing or fishing.[2]

In other words, Jesus commands the storm to be calm as he himself is calm. He brings the storm into line with his own person and character. That is what it means to bring something or someone under the kingdom of God. Jesus brings people and circumstances into his orbit, influence and likeness.

And when you put it like that, you see why his rebuke doesn’t stop with the storm. It extends to the disciples:

He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (Verse 40)

As the calm Jesus makes the storm calm, so he seeks calm in his disciples. Prior to this incident they have sat as privileged insiders with Jesus. He has told parable after parable, leaving them as enigmatic stories for the crowds, but he has explained them to this inner circle.

Yet they still don’t get it.

‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ they ask in verse 41.

And as Jesus sovereignly deals with the storms that oppose our early sorties into mission, so he commands calm in our lives. For he calls us to understand more of who he is in the face of the forces arrayed against us, and thus trust him.

My problem is I’m all to like those first disciples. In a difficult situation, faith tells me Jesus is in control and reason tells me my worst fears won’t materialise. But my body doesn’t listen. My pulse and blood pressure increase. I end up getting value for money from the National Health Service.

Like those earliest followers, I am on a long journey to the calm Jesus wants me to have. Maybe it’s not enough simply to have accepted intellectually that God is in control of events. I need to feed my mind with that truth. I need to meditate upon it. I need to share with other people of faith.

In short, I need to ensure I am on a journey of increasing faith. Jesus is calling me – and all of us – over to another side where we shall be his witnesses. Getting there will mean negotiating the storms of opposition, and for that we would do well to have the serenity that comes from trusting that Christ is ruling over all that happens, whether good or bad.

Conclusion
One of the early Christian symbols for the Church was a boat. You can see ancient drawings where the Church is represented as a boat. That idea is taken from this passage. When the Early Church set out on her task of Christian witness, she frequently encountered the storms of persecution for her faith. But they knew Jesus was asleep in the stern with them, and all would be under his sovereign care.

And perhaps you see now why I said at the beginning that we might end up with a slightly different application of this story from normal. We have often taken this story as an example of how Jesus will calm all sorts of storms in our lives, and I don’t want to deny he does that. Yet the primary application in the passage seems to be connected with mission. Jesus has a specific interest in conquering the fierce opposition to his church’s engagement with mission, and in calming his followers through a growing faith.

Knowing that, are we ready to venture across to our ‘other side’?


[1] William L Lane, The Gospel Of Mark, p 175.

[2] Ibid., p 175f.

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