Easter_CrownofThorns_-_InstagramHave you ever found yourself in a really difficult situation where you are hurting, frustrated, or just flat out exhausted and don’t know if you can even move on another day?  I’m not talking about I’m a little sad, or little upset…I’m talking about feeling like you have nothing left…that moment of your life. Isn’t it interesting in those moments when life is hitting hard how we begin to question everything?  I mean everything…including God!  Isn’t that typically the first question we ask?  Where is God in all this mess I am in?  I know, I know its church and we are all super faithful here…but in those dark and painful moments, we can question everything.  I can think of a few moments of my life that where I found myself in that exact spot…and I want to share some of that with you today.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was not working in full time ministry and I hit a really bad spot in my life…I was completely fried, and I didn’t know what to do about it.  I had been working as an electrician for years in commercial construction and was very blessed with a great job.  I had the opportunity to run work and it went really well.  Over time I was asked to take over the field operations of the Electrical Department which was a great honor, but it wasn’t a decision I was going to make quickly.  I prayed about it for a couple of weeks, and I knew very clearly that God wanted me to do it.  I was sure this was what He wanted me to do…so I said yes…and the next few years just kind of turned into a blur.  It is funny now looking back but I actually thought hanging up my tool belt and moving into the office would simplify my life…you know I’m now not in the 100 degree heat, and frigid temperatures in the winter anymore.  I’m now going to be in the air conditioned office, wearing nicer clothes, not breaking my back anymore.  This should be pretty easy…AND I knew that God wanted me there…I had prayed through the decision and knew God wanted this to happen…so what could go wrong right?  Well that move was an awesome one on many ways, BUT it felt like someone cranked a treadmill up to around 100 mph and said, “Hey Sam…jump on and take a run!”  I was now working all the time.  When I say all the time I mean Sunday through Sunday, all day, and all night.  I was the guy who hired or fired you.  I was the guy who made decisions that were making or breaking whether a lot of men and their families had food on the table and work for the next year…and it began to weigh me down, big time.  On top of this, I am a husband.  I am a father of four children and I was doing my best to be as good of a dad as I could in those areas as well.  I was preaching here on Sunday mornings as a volunteer.  I was coaching two soccer teams for my children…and I was completely overwhelmed.  I was exhausted.  In the middle of it all, I was helping us build this church building too…and I spent a lot of nights out here trying to pretend I was ok.  I would go to work and pretend I was ok but I was not.  I was here at MRC and I would pray and smile…but I wasn’t ok.  I was losing it as a person.  I would pray and pray and pray to God for help…and you know what…I didn’t hear much from God which hurt me.  When I did hear from Him, all I would hear God whisper was this…  “You are right where I want you to be.”  That’s it…nothing more…I was overwhelmed by life, and I was hurting physically, emotionally, spiritually drying up…and completely on empty and I began to question everything about who I was, and how and why I did things.  I started thinking of ways to get off this wild ride we call life…and it wasn’t pretty.  Funny thing is I wasn’t asking for help.

I think the lowest moment came on a Sunday morning when I was getting ready to preach here at MRC.  Ken was on vacation, which was and still is a huge deal to me…to give him those chances to just go and be a dad and a husband…and I love preaching so much…but this time, I had nothing to say.  I had nothing to give.  I got up early and that Sunday morning and went to the woods behind my house and just sat on a log and lost it.  I cried and cried and cried…I had nothing left, and I sat their begging God for help, and do you know what I heard?  God whispered the only thing I heard around that time again… “You are right where I want you to be.”  It was so frustrating…and I couldn’t understand why I had to walk through what I walked through.  That Sunday I sat in the storage closet and just begged God to show up, and He did as He always does…after the talk I literally hid from everyone.  Once everyone left, I came out of hiding, and knew that I needed help…and I began reaching out for help.  I talked to people smarter than me, who had been in leadership and ministry longer than me and they would use terms like “season of life” and tell me it would be ok.  And you know they would always drift back to something that I didn’t want to hear because I knew it was coming…good old James 1:2-4.

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

You and I, we know this verse is true but do you really want to hear it in the brutal moments of your life?  I can tell you I do not.  I can go back to my childhood where one of my closest friends died in a car accident.  I didn’t know how to process it…I was angry.  I was hurt for their family.  It left me devastated and a lot of good Christian people would say wonderful things like, “hey, everything happens for a reason!”  I would look at the family mourning and think really?  This happens for a reason.  I think those words angered me, more than even losing my friend.  You know when you are in those dark and low moments, this isn’t what you want to hear is it?  I know I certainly didn’t need someone far from the situation to tell me with a chipper tone that God will spin all of it for good.  Tell that to the family who lost their son right?  Don’t tell me that as I sit here dying inside.  Easy for you to say right?

It’s amazing how in our darkest moments, in the storms of our lives, it is so hard to see a way out and it is so easy to question what is happening and why things happen in life…it’s so easy to question God.  Well that is what I want to look at with you today.  Not only how we question our faith as life hits, but how we can get through those difficult moments and I want to look at how this happens today.  I think those moments of doubt spring from forgetting or not being able to focus on the most important thing there is in our Christian faith…when we forget it, we can wonder where God is in all of this, and I’m excited to get into this with you today.

So this is a big deal day because we are starting a new series that Ken and I are very excited about…I know we are always excited about the next series but this one is going to be really fun.  Over the last few weeks we started to understand something about Jesus.  He taught like no one else had ever taught before, and I think that is something we need to explore even deeper.  Over the next 8 weeks we will be looking at 8 different questions that Jesus asked.  Our goal is really to not just read a story with Jesus in it and move on but to really enter into these stories and do our best to really explore these questions that Jesus asked and today we are going to start with a very, very penetrating question of Jesus’.  You know if you grew up around church you will probably have heard these stories before, but it’s our hope that as we sit in these stories and really focus on the question that Jesus asked that you will be able to open your heart up to the question, and allow Jesus to teach you as He teaches those in the moment of the story.  So with all that to say today’s questions comes out of a really incredible moment where Jesus ends up calming a storm…the question Jesus asked that we really want to focus on today is this…

“Where is your faith?”

So we can find this story in Matthew, Mark, and also but I want to read from Luke today…

Luke 8:22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. NIV

So this is pretty early on in Jesus’ ministry and it is a very important moment with many things that pop out at me, so we are just going to walk through this story together today and really land in the question that Jesus asks in verse 25.  “Where is your faith?”

There will be adversity…even if you are on Jesus’ team.  I think this is really interesting.  Jesus directs them to go to the other side of the lake in verse 22.  They set sail and he falls asleep as they go about driving the boat to the other side of the lake.  These are Jesus’ disciples.  They are doing what Jesus asked them to do, and it puts them in a dangerous spot doesn’t it?  I mean they could have just stayed in where they were and had a nice night, and slept in a warm bed but Jesus asked them to do something so they did it.  Next thing they know they are fighting for their lives thinking they are going to die in the middle of a ferocious storm!  So how does that work?  They are doing everything Jesus asked, and now they are in a bad spot.  Well this is a big deal, because a lot of people end up coming to the conclusion that if they are on Jesus’ team everything will go well for them, and that just isn’t the case. Let me blow your mind even more…if Jesus is God in skin which he is, doesn’t that mean He knew they were heading into that storm?  So he instructed them to go into it?  HMMM…well that is an interesting thought isn’t it?  The reality is that while we don’t want to hear it, Jesus was on mission and this was a teaching moment for these disciples.  Adversity will hit you as a follower of Jesus.  It’s really hard to read your Bible and not clearly see that, and it can become a real set up for a Christian to think difficult moments won’t come, that the storms of life won’t hit…because they will.  It makes me think of this impactful quote from the book ‘The Barbarian Way’ by Erwin McManus.

“Even then Jesus understood his purpose wasn’t to save us from pain and suffering but from meaninglessness.”

So this is a big deal…and we could really argue that Jesus intentionally sent them into this storm.  If you think about it, this is a valuable lesson on a lot of different levels.  Up until this point his disciples really haven’t had much adversity.  Now in a moment where they do what he asks them to do, they end up in a really bad spot.  So there is a major set up for many Christians that think nothing bad can happen to them because they are on Jesus’ team now.  Adversity will come that is the reality of life.  So if that is the reality of life, then how we respond when the adversity hits is going to be a really big deal.  It’s amazing how we respond in the moments of difficulty right?  I mean the painful moments of life can cause us to question everything can’t they?  I know they do for me.  They obviously did here for the disciples…as we end this story with Jesus wondering where their faith was.  Listen, tough times can make you question everything right down to whether there is a God who loves you or not right?

I want you to think for a moment about how you react in the really tough moments.  I’m not talking about the time when the air conditioner was broken or when your internet speed was a little slow and you couldn’t watch Netflix.  I’m talking about the devastating moments of life.  It’s hard in the moment to not question life, to question God, to question everything right?  It’s hard sometimes to see through all of the mess and realize that you may need to walk through something.  You know, it’s amazing how a storm in your life can bring a different level of focus on to what really matters.  I have told you that I learn best through pain…and if you are as stubborn and thick headed as I am…it can take a lot of pain to get your attention.

I want you to see something really interesting about this story here…

23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

Can anyone tell me what some of these disciples were prior to following Jesus?  They were fisherman…so they could handle the boat.  They have literally spent their entire lives using boats out on the water.  So these guys knew what they were doing out there.  So Jesus intentionally places them in their element of expertise (a boat on a lake) and then intentionally sends them into a storm that they can’t handle.  Let’s really sit in that for a moment.  Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat and this storm hits.  Do you think there first instinct was to go get Jesus to save the ship?  I doubt it, I think there first instinct was to do what they were trained to do, navigate this boat through the storm.  But the waves were too strong, the boat was in trouble…it was more trouble than they could handle on their own, and at some point they realize something really important.  They needed Jesus.  So Jesus gets up and calms the storm and he turns to the disciples and asks the question that we need to sit in today…

25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

This is a fantastic question…and I can look back on the stormy moments of my own life, like sitting in the woods bawling my eyes out on empty, and hearing God say “Your right where I want you to be.” and I can very clearly see now looking back that God was gently asking me the same thing…  “Sam, I love you…I have this under control…where’s your faith?”  I think in this moment the disciples have been hit with a lot.  First of all they did everything Jesus asked them to do and they almost died.  Second of all I put my faith in my own strength just like these fisherman…and that doesn’t work out too good does it?  I am the fisherman…Jesus was a carpenter for crying out loud…I don’t need to wake him to help me the professional fisherman…I should handle this moment.  Paul addresses something similar to this so well here as he talks about the affliction that God has on him, the adversity he sees as so deliberately put on Him…

2 Corinthians 12: 7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. NIV

So Jesus asks his disciples, and I think at some point all of us a very valid question.  Where is your faith?  I have always said this…it is so easy to be classy when you win, it sure is harder to be classy when you lose.  It’s the same with life right?  I mean when things are moving along well, the kids are healthy, and everything is going well…it’s easy to grasp God and His love…but I think it’s also easy to forget him too!  I think it is much harder to know and hold onto your faith in God in the difficult moments that come our way…but it is interesting just how much those moments can draw us closer to him.  It’s like somehow storms help us remember…Jesus is in the boat with us!  I have always thought about this and it’s a little heart breaking, and very true…the most spiritual, God focused place isn’t a Church…it’s a Hospital because in our pain we seem to remember our need of God.  We truly are stronger in our weakness.

Let’s face it, we don’t stay focused very well on God and often times when things are rolling along well, we can rely on our own strength to get things done.  Sometimes it takes a storm to realize our deep, deep need of Jesus.  Even when we are in our element as these disciples were in a boat on the water.

It’s really funny in some of the worst moments, in some of my biggest lows I found myself really struggling with my faith…questioning everything, and everyone seemed to hit me with the verse we looked at earlier…

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

I think that is hard to receive this when you are IN the storms of life.  Yeah Jesus may be in the boat with you but you can’t figure out what is going on.  When my life is falling apart and I can’t see my way out, and I’m questioning everything…I don’t need to here that I will be better for it, even if it is true.  Well check out what James says next…

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. NIV

Well that is interesting imagery that James uses there isn’t it?  It is funny how quickly we can lose sight of something really important as the waves crash in around us, and the storm grows out of control.

Remember who saves.  Jesus saves us, we don’t save us.  We aren’t in control.  Even these expert boat people couldn’t save that ship…that was Jesus’ job.  I believe this is where all those moments of doubt really come from.  They come from us losing focus on the Gospel truth, that Jesus saves us.  It’s funny how quickly we lose sight of the most foundational, most important part of our belief system.  You don’t save you.  God through his son Jesus does that for you.  You can’t do it.  You can’t earn it.  Jesus had to calm the storm and often times for me I try and try and try…and I can’t do it.  Ironically the harder I try, the worse it often gets.  I’m so quick in my own life to take ownership of things I just can’t own.  I don’t know about you but when things aren’t going well the first thing I do is try to fix it…which I know is what the disciples were up to here trying to use their fishing expertise to navigate the storm…but the waves got higher…and the wind blew harder and eventually they got it…we need Jesus.  In my own life you know that I learn through pain and it can take a lot of it for me to get to a place where I know I need Jesus in my life.  It often times takes me walking with weight that I can’t bare for a while before I’m ready to give it all to Jesus.  Jesus saves…not you and not me!  This is what Paul was really trying to help us see…we need God to do what we can’t do!  His affliction helps him stay focused and he knows it.  I think this is where those doubts and questions on what we believe come from…we forget the cross…we forget that Jesus saves!

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Responding to the storms.  So storms will come, and when the storms of life hit you where do you turn?  How will you respond?  This is a very important question…and I think it is one we all must look at from time to time.  If we don’t understand the truth of the Gospel that we are in desperate need of Jesus things will get very messy, very quickly.  So where do you turn when the storms of life hit?

For many of us we turn to things of this world to find some peace at least for a little while.  We turn to things like alcohol, or vacations, or we get really busy and ignore it…we escape and try to find ways to blow off steam and none of it works.  Don’t get me wrong it may give you a moment of release, but that pain, that storm isn’t going away without help.  We must got to God and maybe whether we want to hear it or not, that is why difficult moments NEED to hit…so that I start to remember just how desperately I need Him in my life.

Isaiah 40:28  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. NIV

So when you think about how your respond to the storms in your life…and you run to vacation, or alcohol, or your golf game, or hunting or whatever that thing is do you come back with a renewed strength?  An increased power?  Do you come back soaring on the wings of eagles?  No!  You escaped for a little while but now you’re hung over, sun burned and still dealing with the same problem you were before you left!  I have learned through my life that I have an incredible ability to try to wear weight on my shoulders that Jesus would love to take from me.  I have learned that when the trial of life hit me I can do my best to work to fix things that I just can’t fix and it doesn’t take me long to find myself in very desperate, very dark place in my own life with God whispering to me the same question Jesus asked the disciples after he calmed the storm that night.  Where is your faith?  Jesus is saying, I’m right here with you all the time and I can do what you can’t do!  You are owning things that you need to bring to me.  You are wearing weight that you just can’t wear…but I your loving God can take that from you.  God says he will give strength to the weary.  All that doubt, all that pain, even with the full understanding that tough times will hit my life this still is a challenge for me…grasping in the moment of the storm that God is doing a work in me.  So how do we refocus in the tough times…we remember the most important thing…Jesus saves.

Hebrews 12:1 Do you see what this means — all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running — and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. 2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (MSG)

We go over the story again and again.  This is what brings us back, this is what shoots adrenaline into our souls.  The fact that Jesus saves us!  It’s the Gospel truth…and it’s the first thing we forget when the storms of life hit.

Does this mean as a Christian you are to be happy all the time, and never feel hurt?  No, you will still hurt.  Does this mean that you can move forward…absolutely!  You can move forward when you give this all over to Jesus.  When you stop trying to do his job for you and when you place things on his shoulders and not yours.  Listen I’m not saying the storm will go by quickly, it may take time.  But we must anchor ourselves in God’s truth.  His truth is that His grace and love are true.  So while it’s the last thing you may want to hear, it is important to know…that God is working through the storms of our lives.  With every storm we grow and we learn.  The reality is that these storms force action…and let’s face it they force us to focus on Jesus again in a world that pulls that focus away all the time.  So while that scripture in James is tough to receive it is so true, these trials do produce things in our lives that we would not pick up any other way.

Jesus took these boys right into a storm, and it was a big time lesson.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be all lollipops and gum drops because up to this point I think it kind of was for them.  They also learned just how much they need Him.  They now understand the core truth of Christianity, Jesus saves us…we can’t save us.

So the question he asked his followers is a very important one, and as we walk through life with the knowledge that there will be storms the question is the same for us all today.  Where is your faith?  How will you respond when the storms of life hit.  If you think about it, those storms will force action.  They can drive you closer to God if we can focus on the truth that we need Jesus or they can drive us to greater pain if we try to muscle up and try to go it alone.  Either way, storms will come.  And we love you too much here at MRC not to say it.  There will be tough moments in life, and in those storms as you are getting bounced around wondering if you can get through it…Jesus is in it with you.  Please give that all to Him.  He can take our burden, and only he can walk you through what you are walking through…only Jesus can save you.

So I leave you today with the question that Jesus asked…when the storms of life hit.

Where is your faith?