Thursday, September 07, 2006

On Mission with Jesus

As promised, another entry, this in the form of this week's message to the good people of the First Baptist Church of Temple City, California.

Get in the Boat!
(Mark 4:35-41)
September 10, 2006

When I pastored in New Hampshire, I had this one deacon in the church that worked for the phone company there. He went into work at 5 AM, which meant he got off early in the afternoon. Summer in central New Hampshire is amazing: warm days; clear skies; cool waters of the many lakes there. The crown jewel of the lakes is Lake Winnipesaukee, a large irregularly shaped lake that takes you seventy miles to drive around. In the summer, Lake Winnipesaukee is teaming with tourists and boats, and all along the shore summer cottages open up; it seemed that Boston closed down and sent everyone up to New Hampshire, where we were happy to take their tourist dollars.

Anyway, Dave Richardson would call me up at least three or four times a season and say conspiratorially, “Pastor—ya wanna play hooky?” I always knew what Dave meant. It meant that he was going out on the lake on his boat and wanted to invite me to come along. Unless I had an emergency going on, you bet, I played hooky with Dave. (I called it a pastoral call!)

Out we’d go from the dock, up to Weirs Beach and under the bridge, then the sail went up and we’d go do along Ellacoya Beach, out toward Snake Island. Then, open water and pray for a good stiff breeze! Dave taught me that there are no ropes on a boat—only sheets and lines. He taught me how to come about, how to tack, how to handle the rudder. There’s nothing that feels as good as spray from your own boat, powered by nothing more than the wind.

One time we were out. Actually, it wasn’t one of our hooky sessions. It was a Saturday, and we were going to meet up with our wives and kids (all toddlers at the time). The water was rough that day, so Dave took the till and asked me to get something from below. While I was down there, we had a big spray across the deck and when I came up, I slipped on the water and fell back down into the hold, about four feet hard. A rib in the hull caught me right on the diaphragm and knocked the wind right out of me, and I was wheezing like an old man with pneumonia.

Poor Dave was worried that I’d broken something—I was pretty sure that I hadn’t—at the same time he was stuck handling the boat in rough water by himself. But in a few minutes I stopped wheezing and shook it off, just getting a bruise and a sore belly for my clumsiness.

Dave was pretty relieved. He thought he had a full-blown emergency on the water, and he knew that was a crisis. “This thing don’t exactly go too fast to a hospital, ya know?”

Now here’s a little curiosity: even though Lake Winnipesaukee isn’t shaped the same, it’s about the same size as the Sea of Galilee. And there are several stories in the gospels about different kinds of crises on the water. The one I want to share with you today is found in Mark 4:35-41. Let’s read it in one gulp and then come back to it and see its lesson for us today.

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

I think we can find here a profound lesson of what God wants to accomplish in our lives and in the life of our church. The lesson in a sentence is this: Jesus has a mission, a plan, that He invites us to be a part of, and it’s only when we get into the boat with Jesus that we find that mission and find the place of joy God has for our lives.

It’s easy to miss the lesson. Jesus wasn’t suggesting they get into the boat to go on a pleasure cruse. It wasn’t to go fishing. He has an objective in mind, and you have to skip over to Mark 5 to find out what it was. Over there was a man who was filled with demons. Not only that, on the other side of the lake the people weren’t Jews. They didn’t believe in One God, the Father of Jesus. They were Syrians and Greeks, who at the time were hardcore pagans.

Now, over on the Jewish side, Jesus was a big hit. People hung on His every word. People were getting healed. It would have been pretty comfortable to stay there. But Jesus was restless. The pagans out there needed to hear about God’s love too. The Gerasene area, full of pagans, was also full of people that God loved. The conversion and deliverance of this wild man who lived by the shore there would be the perfect beachhead for the advance of the good news. That’s why they got in the boat: Jesus was on a mission.

1. Jesus was mission-focused (v. 35)

He’s determined: He says, let’s go:

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side."

Jesus leaves the crowd behind and goes where the unknown will certainly happen.

Isn’t it true that it’s a lot easier for “church people” to hang with other church people and to spend all their time with church people? It’s comfortable, pretty predictable, and it’s low risk. But Jesus sets the pattern for us. He says, “Guys, get in the boat. There’s a mission for us over there. There are people who need God over there. They’re not like you, but God loves them as much as He loves you. Let’s go.”

So we read in vs. 36:

36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

So it was a little flotilla: maybe three or four boats that went. Did you catch that little detail—it says, “they took Him, just as He was, into the boat.” No preparation. Didn’t pack a lunch. Didn’t grab His Visa card. Just, “let’s go”—and they were off.

That’s the way we need to be ready, to be nimble, to turn on a dime when the Spirit says to. This is living the lifestyle Jesus told us about in Matthew 6. In Matthew 6:25-27, He says,

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Now if you do live that way, you can expect people to misunderstand. I’m not talking about non-believers. I’m talking about people who are believers who try to “talk sense” to you. Let me put it this way:

2. When you are mission-minded, and follow Jesus wherever He sends you, expect a crisis (Mark 4:37)

Here’s what happened next:

37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

The Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms. Mountains surround most of the lake, but there are a few gaps that sometimes allow furious winds, especially at night. That’s what happens here. Jesus is on mission to the pagans, and all heck breaks loose. In a similar way, when you follow Jesus on mission, you can expect that suddenly your life will be in a storm.

It may come with a family who think that you’ve lost your mind. It’s kind of like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was being drawn to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming—he was obsessed by that image, so all his family and friends thought he was crazy. But in reality he was being drawn to an encounter beyond this world.

So your family, your friends, especially and even your Christian friends, will be the storm in the way. I recall a missionary couple whose greatest opposition was the woman’s mother. “You’re not going to some third world country and raise my grandchildren there!” And this woman was the leader of her church’s mission society! I guess missions is OK as long as her family doesn’t have to pay a price!

In ancient Israel, the sea was often a symbol of turmoil, of the untamed, the dangerous. Most ancient Hebrews came to fear the sea. In Solomon’s time, he had to hire non-Israelites to man his trading ships. The sea was dangerous. These fishermen from Galilee were the dramatic exception. But now, in the middle of the night, a storm threatens the mission.

Where was Jesus when the storm raged?

3. Jesus trusted in His Father’s plan (38a)

38a Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.

He’s in the stern—asleep! Why? He was tired! (And no fool—He was on a cushion)

No really, He was tired. Read Mark 4 and you’ll see it’s been quite a day.

But on another level, knowing what the Father’s mission was, He had total peace about it all. That meant leaving without packing a thing, it meant crossing Galilee in the middle of the night. If God is in it, there’s peace. Even if everybody around you thinks you addled, there’s peace.

If you follow Jesus wherever He leads, I guarantee that there will be storms. I also guarantee you that there will be peace as well. Now let’s see what happens next.

4. Jesus defuses the barrier to mission (v. 38b-39)

38b The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Remember that in Jewish culture, water is seen as chaos. The Bible also says that only God can calm the seas. In Psalm 65:7, God is described as the one who “stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.”

I’m sure that the reason that the disciples woke Jesus up wasn’t to do a miracle. They were probably amazed that this landlubber carpenter could apparently sleep through anything, and they needed two more hands to bail. The last thing they expected was Jesus doing what He did.

Can’t you just see it? Jesus rubs the sleep out of His eyes, sees the fine mess that they’re in and straightens Himself up. He holds the line going from the mast to the stern and stretches out one hand. He says in an even voice, “Quiet! Be still!” and that’s it. It’s like somebody unplugged the storm.

Here’s a great little gem: when Jesus told off the storm, that word for “be still” is pepsimoso which has nothing to do with Pepsi, but is the verb form of the word for “muzzle.” It’s like Jesus was saying, “Put a muzzle on—and keep it on!” Is that great, or what?

What am I suggesting? Here’s what. Jesus calls us to go on mission with Him. Life is not about us doing what we want to do and hope that it’s OK with Jesus. He’s the man with the plan, and He has a plan for you and He has a plan for me. But when we go, we can expect a storm. Plan for the storm. There has never been someone who wanted to follow God that hasn’t hit a storm. The people of Israel at times hated Moses. Not once but twice David’s people almost overthrew him as king. Other believers—not pagans or unbelievers—at times wanted to brand the apostle Paul as a false teacher. That’s the kind of storm I’m talking about.

But the storm is OK. The storm makes us call out to Jesus. The storm makes us run to Him. The storm makes us stronger. The devil may stir up the water, but God can muzzle the water.

What’s your current chaos? It may be a good storm, a storm that came from following Him. But there are other storms. Recall the small detail that there were other boats going out as well? Maybe the passengers on one boat said, “Go over to the pagans? Not us! Let’s go down to Tiberius. I know a place with a great kosher taco salad.” Maybe another boat had a vote and decided to go east to Bethsaida. If you get in those boats, if go your own way, storms will still come, but there is no guarantee that Jesus goes with you, no promise that He will muzzle those storms.

No, let the storms we face be the storms that come from following Him. But that only comes as we attach ourselves to His mission, His way, His plan.

There is a term that you may not know; it’s the term missional. We know what a “mission” is, and what we mean by “missionary”, but what’s this term missional? In some corners, it’s become a buzzword, a word that people use a lot to sound trendy and on top of it, but really, if you catch the meaning of the word, it’s powerful.

Here’s the idea. Most churches, most Christians, think that “missions” is one thing on the Good Christian “To Do” List. There’s worship and Bible study and fellowship and some kind of ministry and then there’s all that outreach stuff—missions out of the country and evangelism inside.

The concept of missional Christianity presses us to recognize that the whole Jesus-following life is outward-oriented, that we are not called to do missions as one thing among many, but as the only thing that really matters. The whole Jesus-following life is getting in the boat with Jesus and doing His mission to take the good news to the pagans God loves so much that Jesus went to a cross for them. We worship in part for fuel to keep at God’s mission; we study His word so we know what the mission involves. We fellowship so we can conspire with other Jesus-followers on how to take the word to the world. We ministry to one another so we can be lifted up to get on Jesus’ boat and go with Him wherever He calls us. That’s a missional faith: the one that puts the mission of God at the center of the life of God’s people.

Jesus was calling His disciples into front-burner involvement with God’s mission, and into a missional mentality and lifestyle.

One last thing here:

5. Jesus forcefully calls us to get into His mission (v. 40-41)

40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

He rebukes them, and tells them that they have a faith deficit. There’s no need to fear. The need is to believe. To get on board. What God’s called you to, He will provide for as well.

And the disciples are left reeling.

“Who is this?” they ask. Who can unplug a storm with a word? He’s the Creator, the Son of God, God in the flesh, that’s who.

Yes, Jesus’ calming of the sea points to His divine nature. But we can’t miss the big point here for us today: He calls us to get into the boat and to jump into His mission. This is the call on our lives, the point of why God called us into His family: to go with Him and do His mission.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!

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