On Saturday September 26, 2015, I was honored to preach at the Bridge Church of the Nazarene in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It capped off a week of teaching. Here is a rough transcript of the sermon, which was well-received by all.
“Calming the Storm”
Some years ago when serving as a missionary in Haiti, I visited the island of La Gonave with Sadrack Nelson, my assistant. For a week, we taught a course, much like the course we’ve enjoyed together this week. When the course was finished, we said our goodbyes and – early in the morning – headed to the dock to catch a boat back across the water to Port-au-Prince. We paid our passage on one of the speedboats, and sat on board waiting for the other passengers to arrive. On the side of the boat, a small metal plaque read: “15 passengers maximum.” I counted as more and more passengers paid their fare and climbed aboard…12, 13, 17, 21, 24…Counting the captain, we numbered 26. I began to pray.
That morning, the water was very rough. This didn’t slow down the captain, who opened the throttle to maximum. The waves tossed the boat back and forth as all of us were deluged with the spray. At more than one point, I wondered – like the disciples crossing the sea of Galilee in the storm – whether we would capsize. Finally, I called out to the captain: “With the rough seas, shouldn’t we go slower?” To this he replied, “God is with us.” I couldn’t help but respond with the words of Jesus in Matthew 4: “You shall not test the Lord your God!”
I. LET’S CROSS TO THE OTHER SIDE (v. 35)
In Mark 4, we find the story of another time when waters were rough and people feared they would drown. But before we get to that part of the story, let’s back up just a bit. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had been teaching the people about the Kingdom of God, telling them various parables. But now in v. 35, when the evening had come, he said to his disciples: “Let us go over to the other side.”
Why would Jesus say this? Were there not many people already where they were who needed to know about Jesus? Did they also not need more teaching? Surely, they did, yet the Lord realized that on the other side of the lake, others waited who needed his help, in this case, a man from the Gerasenes who was demon possessed (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus is always lifting our eyes to those who have not yet heard.
I can identify with Jesus’ words, “Let us go over to the other side.” It reminds us of how God lead me and my family from Côte d’Ivoire to Benin. I had been serving for more than 3 years as Director of the Nazarene Bible Institute in Abidjan. Amy had her ministry, and our sons were doing well in their primary school. Little did we know that God was about to send us somewhere else.
One day at the office, I heard the fax machine begin churning out a fax. It was sent by our missionary in Ghana, and was a copy of an article. Beninese President Matthew Kérékou has spoken to a conference of missionaries held in Johannesburg. At the end of his speech, he made a plea:
Come to Benin. Help me lay a Christian foundation for my nation.
It was an amazing story, and I wondered aloud: “I wonder who God will send? ” Later at home, I showed my wife, Amy, a copy of the fax. She reminded me of a conversation from two weeks earlier, when our field director had mentioned Benin as one of the countries that we still needed to enter. The Lord had spoken to Amy’s heart that night, but now the fax seemed like a confirmation. “Could it be that God is calling us to go to Benin?” she asked. I ruled it out, but she encouraged me to join her in prayer on the matter.
A few days later, I was listening to a song in my car, on the way to the office. It was Philips, Craig and Dean’s “I am crucified with Christ.” The lyrics follow the words of Galatians 2:20:
I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live
Not I, but Christ who lives within me.
The cross will never ask for more than I can give
For it’s by his strength I live.
There’s no greater sacrifice…
I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live.
After listening to the song, it seemed that the Lord spoke to my heart:
And what about you, Greg? Are you crucified with me? Are you still on the cross? Will you do what I’m asking you to do? Will you go to Benin?
Arriving at the office, I parked the car and climbed the stairs. I was the first one on team to arrive that morning, and I locked the door behind me. Down on my knees, I told the Lord all the reasons why we weren’t the ones to go. “I”m a theological educator,” I said, “not a church planter.” When all my excuses were done, I pleaded: “God, I can’t do this.” The Lord answered: “You’re right. You can’t, but I can, and I’ll go with you.”
That day I gave in to the Lord. Nearly 1 year later, God had put all the pieces together for us to move to Benin. It’s amazing to see how that time of just 4 1/2 years in Benin, of laying a foundation, has lead to things that surpass what we could have imagined, good things, God things. Through the sacrifice of many Beninese and the moving of the Holy Spirit, we now have more than 100 churches and more than 15,000 Nazarenes in Benin. To God be the glory!
And what of you? The Church of the Nazarene in the DRC is mostly in three cities, namely, Goma, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa. Could it be that Jesus is also saying to the Church of the Nazarene in the DRC: “Let us go over to the other side”? Church, so many more need the message of holiness! Are we willing to do what God is calling the church to do, to go to those who have not heard? I can promise you: God will reward our obedience to Him.
II. THE WAVES BROKE OVER THE BOAT (v. 37)
When we respond to Jesus’ call to cross over to the other side, we shouldn’t be naive. He has not promised that things will be easy. They climbed into the boat, and before long, v. 37 tells us that a furious squall came up. The result? The “waves broke over the boat.”
In December 1999, just 11 months after arrival, it seemed like our boat would sink. One after another, we fell ill with malaria. First was me, then Amy, followed by John. Only Brad was spared that month. While in the clinic receiving treatment, they discovered a mass in Amy’s lower abdomen. The doctor recommended that she fly back to the U.S. where she could receive further testing. So, Amy headed to her parents in New York State while I stayed behind and did the single dad routine. The night before her surgery, Amy called to say that the test that is 98% accurate showed cancer. We prayed over the phone, then I called others to pray. The next day, the surgery went well, and – praise the Lord – the mass was benign!
My brother and sisters, my story is hardly unique. So many of you have known such times of trial. God has never promised that things will be easy. In fact, when we are obedient to the Lord and launch out in new ways, rest assured that things will get tough. Expect it. I Peter 4:12-13 (NIV) advises:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Yet despite the difficult times, I’m glad to know the story doesn’t end there.
III. JESUS IS STILL IN THE BOAT
The disciples were afraid they would drown. But one thing reassured them: Jesus was still in the boat! They woke him up, and cried out: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Then Jesus stood up and told the wind to be quiet. Verse 39 tells us: “Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Turning to his disciples, he asked: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40).
I don’t know where you are living right now. Maybe you wonder how you will pay your children’s school fees, or perhaps you’ve been looking for work for a long time, yet nothing materializes. Or it may be a health matter, or you wonder how you will get the rent for this month. There are times when we say to the Lord: “Don’t you care if we drown?” At times like this, let us not forget: Jesus is still in the boat! He cares, and he will help us.
In John 16:33, on the night of his arrest, Jesus comforted his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble.” Aren’t you glad the verse doesn’t end there? It continues: “But take heart! For I have overcome the world.”
What waves are crashing over the side of your boat? Call out to Jesus! He loves you, and he will calm the storm.
The story of Jesus and his disciples on the sea of Galilee holds many lessons for us. He told his disciples: “Let’s cross to the other side.” How about you? In what ways does God want to stretch you, to use you to reach those who still don’t know about Jesus or the message of holiness? Will we be obedient to the call? Be assured, it won’t be easy. In fact, it will be very difficult to obey, and you may even fear for your life as the waves comes crashing in over the sides. But take courage! Jesus will never leave you. He will never forsake you. Jesus is still in the boat, and he will see you through.
Image credit: Simchajtv.com