Jesus and Storms

(Next LFC gathering: 6:00 to 8:00pm at Plantation Park- 875 Davis Pond Blvd, 32259 – on Sunday, September 8.  We’ve reserved the pavilion.  Bring some picnic food to share.)

“Do you know God?”  Someone once asked Soren Kierkegard that question.  He was a well known philosopher and a theologian and the father of Christian Existentialism.  Ask a smart guy a simple question, and may get more than you bargain for.  His answer:  “Do I know God?  No, I cannot say that I know God.  I’m coming to know him, and so are you.”   So, what did he prove?  Well, he proved he could annoy people who ask questions.  He proved semantics were important to him.  But he also made a good point.  There’s always more to God than we realize.

If storms bring a gift, it is the opportunity to discover there’s more to God than we knew before.  Do we trust him?  Will he stay with us?  Is he really greater than the storm?  Does he keep his promises?  Many people simply pray that the storms will stay away.  And they may.  But God sometimes decides it’s better for us to go through it.  I don’t like that.  You may not like it either.  But I’ve learned that God isn’t deterred by our preferences for safety.  And that’s not just my experience.  It’s biblical.

There’s a story in the gospels about Jesus calming a storm.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story.  Look up Luke 8:22-25 if you want to read it for yourself.  The story begins when Jesus says to his disciples: “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.”  So they get in the boat and start crossing the lake.  Jesus falls asleep. And a squall comes and the boat starts to sink.

The disciples knew Jesus pretty well at this point.  They’d been with him for a while.  They heard him teach crowds, seen him heal, and even bore witness as he raised the dead.  What more did they need to learn?

So in the middle of the storm, the great men of faith, the twelve apostles, hand picked by Jesus himself wake him up in a panic: “Master, do you care that we are about to drown!?!”

Jesus wakes up, looks around, and speaks to the storm. “Be still,” he says, and everything gets still.  The raging sea gets flat calm.  (Mark notes that it happened “immediately”).  And Jesus says, “Where is your faith?”

The disciples who a moment earlier were afraid of the storm are suddenly fearfully amazed at the guy in the boat.  “Who is this who commands wind and water, and they obey?”  Who is this guy whom storms obey?

And don’t miss this point  Who is it who led them into the storm?  Who said, “let’s go.” 

Jesus.

Jesus led them right into a storm just to reveal more about who he was.

And do you think they needed to know him like that?    Do you think their experience with Jesus in a storm was beneficial for the life on mission Jesus had in mind for them?  Every one of his disciples would opposition, threat, rejection, and persecution.  But they knew Jesus was greater than any storm.

Where I sit today, we’re staring at a really big storm – the 2nd largest Atlantic hurricane in the record book is coming near.  In the next couple of days, we’ll either be very relieved that it stayed a out at sea or very busy hunkering down in the middle of the wind and rain.  All of the spaghetti models show it missing or glancing by the First Coast, but a direct hit is not yet ruled out.  Mandatory evacuations are on, even though the predictions suggest we’ll be spared the worst. 

Our neighbors in the Bahamas got the worst this storm has to offer: 185 mph sustained winds, a 23 foot storm surge, and a relentlessly slow crawl across the country.  36 hours of devastating wind!  Oh my!  Lord, please sustain, relieve, and be present with my brothers and sisters in our neighboring island nation!  They face a long, dark storm. 

Let me share three truths about Jesus and the storms we face:

Truth #1: Storms come. Expect them.  There is no safe path to follow to avoid them.  Some people adopt the Christian faith thinking it is a way to avoid the stormy troubles of the world.  But storms come even to people who twist theology to avoid them.  Back when I worked as a hospital chaplain, I was told that, on average, a tragedy or hardship will strikes the typical family once every four years.  A death, a divorce, a bankruptcy, a job loss, a foreclosure, a child in trouble, a medical crisis, mental crisis, dashed hopes, dashed dreams, shattering disappointments, disillusionment – they come our way and they come to the people we love.  And it may just be that Jesus, in his great love for you, will send you right smack into one storm after another.  Sometimes storms come in waves.  Storm follows storm.  Learn to welcome them.  There is grace is available to us if we can learn to do so.  Storms reveal far more to us about ourselves than the easy times.  More importantly, we learn something about who Jesus really is in a storm.  Our false impressions of Jesus, the ones that so need to fall away – the safe, good-luck-charm Jesus, the nice Jesus, the health and wealth Jesus – all that trifling emptiness melts – thank God!  Thank God that the false Jesus melts away as the real Jesus, Lord in and over the storms is revealed so that with the disciples, we ask in fear and amazement, “Who is this?”

Truth #2: Jesus is present in the storm – but it’s easy to forget that he’s there.  In fact, he will let us struggle in that storm on our own for a long time.  But here’s where grace is available to us.  In storms, we learn that Jesus is faithful.  He doesn’t send us in to storms to leave us or to harm us.  He is with us.  He is with us.

Truth #3:  Jesus is not concerned about the storms.  He’s greater than any storm you have faced, may face, or are facing right now.  For that matter, he will send us into storms so that we can learn how much we need him.  Oh, and he sends storms our way when we think we are safe.  He’ll send a storm that washes away our self-confidence, makes us uncomfortable, scares us near to death.  What are those things in your life that you depend on, count on, trust in?  Jesus will often strategically give us challenges right in those areas – because he is Lord.  We quickly learn to trust God.  And here’s where we find grace.  Jesus, who is not concerned about storms IS concerned about you in your storm.  If he put you there, he has a purpose for you there.

Jesus is not easy to follow.  Following Jesus scares the daylights out of me, sometimes.  He has led me into a number of situations I feared.  Some of those storms would have made the list of my greatest fears at one time.  I have learned that he’s very comfortable in those places.  In hindsight, I am very grateful for them.

How about you?  Has Jesus been with you in scary storms?  What did he show you there about himself, about you, and about your relationship?  I am convinced that if storms bring any gift, it is the opportunity to discover there’s more to God than we knew before.  So now it’s your turn to answer the question.  Do you know God?

Whatever storm you are facing, may you recognize the presence of the Lord with you in this storm.  May you know the Lord who is over every storm better next week than you do this week, and better still in the seasons that follow.  And may the Lord work through this storm shape you to be who he desires you to be!  

Side note from this story:  Jesus seemed to arrange things so the disciples didn’t have to go through this experience alone.  He piled them all into a boat.  We weren’t created to endure storms alone.   I could tell you tragic story after tragic story of people who decided to follow Jesus by themselves.  It doesn’t go well.  Don’t do it.  Make sure others are in “your boat”.  We were created, not just for fellowship with Jesus, but also with other disciples.  There is much grace, comfort, and strength to be discovered in going through storms in community.  Do you think the disciples ever reminded one another of that night.  “Don’t you remember when the storm came up on the Lake!  Don’t you remember what Jesus did that night!”   Who do you have with you in your boat?  If you don’t have anyone, may the Lord lead you into fellowship with others who follow him, and may the Lord give you courage to enter into that fellowship!

Along those lines, if you’d like, next Sunday night some of us are getting together, and you are invited and welcome. Presumably, the storm will have passed and we will be sharing a picnic at Plantation Park Pavilion (875 Davis Pond Blvd, 32259).  Come, share your experience of getting through the storm.  We’ll taking some of the time to worship the Lord who is greater than the storm!

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Praying for Courage and Eyes

Today at work, I had a little time to listen a *conversation on discipleship.  They covered a lot of ground, but two things struck me.  First was the reminder to gather with others to pray specifically for courage to be disciples who make disciples.  I cannot think of many occasions when a brother or sister prayed for me to have courage.  Discipleship requires risk – and without courage, risk won’t happen.  Just off the top of my head, I need…

  • courage to speak with people I don’t know or don’t know well,
  • courage to take conversations a little deeper,
  • courage to point to Christ
  • courage to hold my tongue
  • courage to avoid the easy conversations
  • courage to pray for someone out loud and in public
  • courage to proclaim the name of Jesus
  • courage to ask someone else to do the same
  • courage to love difficult people
  • courage to trust God
  • courage to represent Jesus well while inviting others to do the same.

The second thing was the call to ask God to give our eyes to see.  It reminded me of the old hymn: Open My Eyes – “Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth you have for me…”  It’s a prayer to ask God to help us see:

  • who and what he’d have us see
  • with his perspective
  • with great love.

Give it a try.  See what happens.  Get some people together.  Pray for courage to be a disciple who makes disciples.  Pray for eyes to see what and who God would have you see.  (I’ll be praying that for Unity Day).  You try it.  Let me know what happens!

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* It was a conversation between David Platt and Francis Chan that I came across on YouTube.

 

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Unity Day in Saint Augustine.

Next Saturday, August 24, one of our friends, Rick Smith, is a part of hosting Unity Day in Saint Augustine from 8am to 5pm.  It will be held at 10 North Holmes Blvd.  I and some friends are planning to be there.  If you have the freedom to take part, I encourage you to come on out and join us.  If not, please join us in praying the prayer God invites us to pray from 2nd Chronicles 7:14  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin, and heal their land.”

Hope to see you there!

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Remember who you are!

I haven’t been to see the live action Lion King yet, but the original came out when our kids were small.  I’ve probably seen it 100 times.  Spoiler alert here, if you missed it, but a crucial moment in the movie comes when Simba has a spiritual encounter with his father who appeals to Simba with all the authority of that James Earl Jones voice, “Simba, remember who you are!”

Do you know who you are?

I’m the sort of person who can get carried away in the moment.  How things are going has an affect on how I see myself.  In good times and hard times, it’s easy for me to forget that I am God’s child, part of a royal priesthood, I call God, “Father.”  I am welcome at his table.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus lives in me.  I am never alone.  I am never forgotten.  Never forsaken.  And God invites me to represent him as his child and a citizen in his kingdom.  This is not because God needs my help, for he certainly does not.  It is simply because of who I am – his child.

It’s easy to forget.

Last night, I was reminded of Ephesians 1:5 – that through Christ, we are adopted as son and daughters.  We looked again at Ephesians 2:1-10.  It’s a free gift – not something we’ve earned.  “for we have been saved by grace through faith – this is not of ourselves.  It’s the free gift of God.”  The work we do, the works God has in mind for us to do, flow from the new identity God has given us.  He won’t love us any more if we succeed.  He won’t love us any less if we fail.  And he will not ever cease to call us his beloved child.

What helps you remember?

Earlier this summer, we spent a week of family vacation in the Venice, Florida area.  We’ve been vacationing there as a family since 2003.  There’s something about Venice sunsets that remind me who God is and who I am.  Prayer helps, too.  There’s something about praising God for who he is, and taking time to examine my heart before him that reminds me of who I am.  Good music does it.  A good book.  My small group helps, too.  Time with brothers and sisters in Christ who encourage me to keep pursuing Christ, who speak into my life, and who pray with me.

I’m thinking I’m not the only one who gets forgetful.  What reminds you?  May this be a reminder.  You are precious in the eyes of God the Father, worth the blood of God the Son, and called to be filled with God the Spirit!

If you want to learn more about finding our identity in Christ, check out the Covenant Triangle Tool.

 

 

 

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Eat with, Encourage, and Pray for…One Another

You can’t do “one-another” things by yourself.
Have you ever noticed how many “one another” passages there are in the Bible?  Based on a quick google search, quite a few people have noticed because quite a few lists came up.  God’s word encourages us to be with one another.  “Be at peace with one another.”  “Love one another.” “Serve one another.”  “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” “Care for one another.”  “Bear one another in love.” “Encourage one another.” “Be kind to one another.”  Those things are not very easy to do in isolation.  And there are so many more.
This is one of my favorites, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25)
I think one reason there are so many “one another” scriptures is because it is God’s plan for us to follow Jesus with people we know well.   I recognize my need for community most profoundly when I see myself as sent.  I find that one of the the surest ways to get discouraged  when seeking to live life on mission is when I find myself alone.  I need community or I am prone to give up.
And I bet I’m not  – alone – in that.
So if you are living life on mission or are thinking about it, you are invited to get together this Sunday night from 6:00 to 8:00 at Kent and Kris Wehmeier’s home to do what Hebrews 10:25 tells us to do!   Let’s get together, share life, and stir one another up to love and good deeds.  Email me at pastorjessealexander@gmail.com if you think you can make it.  Just let us know and I’ll fill you in on how you can help complete the feast!
I believe we’ll be eating brats and chicken.
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Fasting and Praying for the First Coast

 

I want to invite you to fast and pray with me.
Earlier this week, I was speaking with Heather about the early vision for the work that has become LoveFirst Coast.  It was seven years ago and I had just turned 47 – 20 years from retirement.  The church I was serving was struggling, and I had discerned a key problem was lack of spiritual maturity.  I began praying, thinking, and studying anything I could find on discipleship.  As a result, I developed a multiplying strategy that would start small and get us to 60 “deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus” in the matter of a few years.  I felt good about that.  I decided to apply the same multiplying strategy beyond the church and discovered the impact to be 500,000 twenty years.  That got me pretty excited.  Based on the math, it seemed doable.  I began to imagine renewed churches, vibrant ministries, and the Micah-6-8 impact of a half-million followers of Jesus loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly with the Lord.
You may notice that there’s a lot of “me” in that.  That was part of the problem in the church, too, no doubt.  But God had a surprise for me.
The unmistakable voice of the Lord interrupted my triumphalistic day dream to say, “add a zero.”
Humbled.  That’s the only word for it.  Add a zero to 60 and you get 600.  That would be larger than the church I was serving.  Add a zero to the already-crazy sum of 500,000 and you get 5,000,000.  Five million deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus?   That would be larger than the denomination that ordained me.  How could that happen?  How could I do that?
Pretty clear, though, isn’t it.  Only God could do that!
It’s been seven years.  It’s summer.  It’s a season for reflecting.  If we are on the way to 5,000,000 deeply surrendered disciples, I can’t see it.  But I’m content to be in a movement of discipleship and am learning to trust God for the results.  We can plant, water, and even harvest, but God causes the growth.
That said, we’ve been faithful.  I can count ten folks who are equipped and motivated to make disciples.  But it seems like many of our efforts at discipling others hit road blocks.  Even though we know a little about helping others “learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus,” it is only the Lord can open up those doors.  So borrowing from a pattern I find in scripture, you are invited to join me in humbling ourselves before God to ask to move on the First Coast, to open hearts to being discipled.
Please pray with us.
Lord, we ask that you would move on the First Coast of Florida.  We ask that your Spirit would move, that you would open the hearts of the people you place in our path, and lead us to walk with them such that we all learn from Jesus to live like Jesus.  To your glory!
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Sustaining Joy and Hope

Whenever I start to struggle to sustain hope and joy in this life on mission, I find that reflecting on two questions gives me insight on the source of the problem:
1) Where am I seeking significance?
2) Where am I seeking security?
Of course, the best answer to both questions is God.  By the work of the Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. We are God’s children!  Nothing offers greater significance than that!   Nothing could be more secure!
But still, many messages about that suggest I need to pursue security and significance elsewhere.  And quite a few of those messages are coming from my own fears and pride.
We’ll be taking a look at the last chapter of Philippians for insight.  I hope you can join us, but regardless, may the Lord lead you to sustained joy and hope!
We’ll meet at the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church, 3450 CR210, 6:45pm, July 14.  I hope to see you there.
For your calendar:
July 28 – 6:00 – 8:30  Listen Love Pray and Eat.
August 11 – 6:45 – 8:00  Worship Gathering
August 25 – 5:00 -8:30 Neighborhood Ministry Summit Listen Love Pray and Eat
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