Christians seem increasingly worried these days. Quarreling and bickering in the churches appear on the increase. Doctoring for depression and emotional health are rising significantly. Peace and joy seem obviously absent in the lives of far too many professing followers of Christ. Few people are deficit of needs or even wants, yet contentment is lacking. Is the situation without hope? Is the availability of Holy Spirit power depleted? Does the current environment of which Christians find themselves part render them unable to live and think different then their ungodly counterparts?
If we honestly evaluate our own particular time in church history, we notice people lacking conviction, people who are complacent, and people easily swayed by every wind that blows people short of faith. As we meditate upon previous eras of church history when believers were physically mistreated, persecuted, and imprisoned for their faith we notice a much stronger body of Christians. Why?
In Mark's gospel, chapter four, Jesus asked his disciples two challenging questions in a kind yet reprimanding way. "Why are ye so fearful?" "How is it that ye have no faith?" As we consider this story context of the disciples fearing the raging of the sea, that invoked such questions from our Lord, questions regarding levels of personal faith and weakness in the churches surface.
1. How many Christian's are Christian because it is popular to be so? (verse 1) "And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land." There was a time in Jesus' ministry when He was quite popular. Crowds followed Him, but many for merely selfish interest. Exciting happenings or interesting stories caught their attention. Crowds followed Him for healing or even for bites to eat. However, few followed Him desiring to be disciples. Few cared enough to pay the cost of total surrender. So again the question comes. For what reason did I join a church? Have I been truly born again, desiring to throw my lot in with a portion of God's worldwide pilgrim church? Is it for benefits received by being a good standard keeper in the Mennonite Church, or because of personal rooted faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is my only reasonable service? Is it my desire to do all I can to serve others, bless others, and love my brother regardless of the costs?
2. In what is confidence placed? Is it in the ship to get across the lake rather than faith in the Savior and Pilot of the ship? (verses 35b, 36a) "He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship." There is always temptation to focus on the successes of one's own church group. Viewing our own set of goals and standards as the only way is a snare. Over confidence in the effectiveness of outreach programs is tempting. Confidence in growing churches, spreading conference, and church establishment seems natural. But let us never forget, success and progress in church life happens only as faithful ones having personal relationship with the Pilot of the ship serve Him unconditionally, unreservedly, and wholeheartedly; crediting any accomplishments for glory to His Name. One reason large church groups apostatize and so few pull out of the shipwreck to seek Bible believing and practicing fellowships is because many had their trust placed on the ship and lacked personal connection with the One who longed to be their guide and pilot.
3. Is security in numbers? Is it love for the moral support a highly concentrated area of conservative Mennonite people affords? (verse 36b) "And there were also with him other little ships." The flesh of everyone craves acceptance. The flesh shrinks from being weird or peculiar. It appreciates when those in our area view us as "normal" citizens. Yet Jesus warned, "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Where shame or embarrassment to live in obedience to Christ's teachings exist, relationship with Him needs to be examined. Commitment or possibly re-commitment to a life of full surrender to His service is critical. Only through sincere belief of the heart that complete obedience to Christ is necessary will hope in eternity be granted.
4. Is the focus merely on the benefits and the blessings that being part of a Christian church offers? (verses 37-41) "And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Man lacks power to save himself. He cannot earn his salvation by self-reforming righteousness, hypocritical asceticism or denominational affiliations. Just being a church member somewhere does not gain him salvation. Rather by the Holy Spirit of God filling each man or woman, they choose to be crucified with Christ. Each must mortify the deeds of the flesh that a servant mentality develops. This servant heart bears Spirit fruit bringing honor and glory to God. May we daily consider practical ways with God's help and strength to help others to be faithful as the storms beat upon the Church of Jesus Christ. May we better learn to place our complete trust in the Savior, believing that there is no need to fear; the Master will calm the storm!
5. Is faith weak because of misplaced trust in the affluent society or a growing financial empire? Paul wrote to Timothy, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (1Tim 6:17). We may at times like to portray to others that times are hard, the bills are high, and the income too low, yet we must all agree we have much in relation to most people in the world. The more a person accumulates many times brings discontent into his experience especially if he places his trust in them. Trusting in material wealth and possessions will cause God to appear as if He is asleep, in the "hinder part of the ship" when the empire begins to crumble or the church is facing the storm with high waves. God can only help and direct the lives of those who by faith believe He is the creator of everything and the giver of all good things, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.
6. Is faith weak because of refusal to suffer for the name of Christ? Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2Tim 3:12). Persecution continues today in the lives of the faithful Christian, though in a very subtle way. The devil's tactics are often as "an angel of light" instead of a "roaring lion". Christians are falling away from the truth of the gospel. Am I aware how easily I could be deceived? What is God asking of me? Am I open to the Spirit's voice in my life? Am I willing to give up something He has spoken to me about? Am I willing to sacrifice either material possessions or my own agenda for the cause of God's kingdom and unity in the brotherhood? Am I truly bearing the cross as God wants me to? As we consider the faithlessness of so many professing Christians, may it cause us to dedicate ourselves to a wholehearted faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, persuaded that He alone can help us though this life to a happy eternity.
Finally, let us claim ten Scriptural thought patterns that if believed in faith promise us victorious faith living.
1. God is ultimately and supremely in control of all that happens (Ps 147:5, Ps 139, Ps 42).
2. God has purpose and reason in all that happens (Is 55:6-9).
3. How we choose to respond to life's disappointments and unfair treatment determines whether the outcome is positive (Job 1:21,22; 2:10)
4. Holy Spirit power is the sole means to experiencing complete victory in a Christian's life (2 Cor 3:3-5,17, John 16:13).
5. Pride is the thing, which keeps a person from accepting a circumstance or experience that is less than desirable (Ps 36; 1Pet 5:5,6).
6. Affluence causes feelings of self-sufficiency and discontent, which need to be crucified in order to gain victory in the Christian walk of life (1Tim 6:6-10).
7. Every human at some point of life will experience rejection, unfair treatment, or disappointment (Rom 8:22,26).
8. If self is the focus, either spiritual or physical suicide will occur (Rom 1:18-32; 2Tim 3:1-9).
9. To truly experience fulfillment in following God's will, we need to be persuaded that God's Word has the answer and grasp hold upon His promises (2Tim 3:14-17).
10. As God helps us respond properly to life's difficulties, sufferings, and disappointments He will be able to bless and encourage others in the struggles and trials they are facing (2Cor 1:3-7).
St. Francis of Assissi- "Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy."
- Gettysburg PA