Even if we're Christians, life involves some enormous contradictions. Doesn't it? We pray for one thing, and the opposite seems to happen. We claim Romans 8:28, that "all things work together for good," and then it seems at times everything falls apart. We believe God cares, and then we get into one of those situations where it seems like he has forgotten about us.
Commencement trades places with a funeral. A life so full of promise abruptly ends in tragedy. There are enormous contradictions in life. And when that happens, we are faced with perhaps the biggest choice we ever have to face in life: How are you going to handle it?
You can become angry—angry at life, angry at people who cross over the center line, angry at God. Or you can become cynical and mumble something about the fact that life doesn't make any sense anyway, so why even try? Or you can say, "Now I see it's the kind of a world where you can't live without faith." I want to talk to you about living with faith in that kind of world.
I'd like you to turn in your Bibles to Luke 8:22-25, because one day Jesus was in just that kind of a situation with his disciples. "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. 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. 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. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'"
Notice what happened there. The Sea of Galilee is a very pleasant, oft times placid, beautiful, little sea. But sometimes, without any warning, a storm can sweep down from the neighboring mountains, and that one-time quiet, little sea becomes a virtual tumult. They were caught in one of those storms, and in the middle of that storm, Jesus asks them a question, a very big question: "Where is your faith?"
It's not really a question, you know; it's a rhetorical question, a question that doesn't even look for an answer, a question to which there is no answer. It is instead a command.
Jesus was saying to his disciples, "Okay. There's a storm. Now, in that storm, take the faith that I have so graciously given you and put it to work."
That, I believe, is what he calls us to do today, to take the faith that he has given us and put it to work in circumstances that involve enormous contradictions.
Let me tell you four things that I believe that kind of faith involves.
Faith refuses to panic
First, that faith involves a refusal to panic when storms hit. Put yourself in the boat with the disciples. There they were, it was undoubtedly a relatively small boat, and the threat was real. Matthew describes it as "a furious storm." Luke admits the boat was being swamped. He says they were in great danger. It was a very real storm, a very real threat. And to make problems worse, Jesus had fallen asleep.
Wouldn't you be tempted to panic under those circumstances? But Jesus tells them panic is a totally inappropriate response. The appropriate response, he says, comes out of this rebuke: Take the faith that I have given you for storms like this and put it to work.
You see, the believer is a unique person. The believer has something that nobody else possesses. And if we were here for a funeral this morning as people who were not Christians, this whole service would have a totally different spirit. But Christians have something. They have something very unique. They have the promise that God is with us even when storms make no sense. So we don't have to panic.
First, then, faith is a refusal to panic in the face of storms.
Faith proceeds without answers
Second, faith involves a willingness to go without answers, a willingness to accept things that we can't understand. We try so hard to piece together what happened Saturday night, and little by little some of those pieces are coming together. And yet, there are a lot of answers that escape us. We don't really know what all happened there, and certainly the answers to the bigger questions escape us: Why did it have to happen? And how in the world can we make sense out of this? There are no answers to that question at this point.
So what do you do when you don't have answers? Do you grab God by the shoulder and haul him into court and say, "Now, wait a minute, God. What are you up to?" Do we say, "God, you'd better start giving me some answers. God, you'd better explain yourself. God, you'd better give me one good reason why this has happened. And if you don't, I'm going to hold it against you. I'll never trust you again."
Do we do that? No. No. Faith does something different. Faith weeps. Faith grieves. Faith hurts. But then faith goes on from there. Faith remembers I don't have answers, but I remember that God said he is holy. I remember that God said he is sovereign. I remember that God said he is always trustworthy. I remember that God said he cares for me. I remember that God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our salvation. And I remember that that Son, Jesus, said he is the Resurrection and the life. And I remember that he said he will never desert us. He will never forsake us. He will never leave us. And I believe that. And so even though I don't have answers, I will trust him. I know he is to be trusted, and I will go ahead trustingly, even without answers. That's what faith does.
Faith lets God include unhappy circumstances
But faith does something else. It refuses to panic, it goes ahead without answers, and it is also willing to let God include in our lives experiences that we don't like.
We all have them from time to time. I would venture there isn't a family—and sooner or later there will not be one person—here who cannot point to a deep valley in their life where things were far different than what they'd like, like the disciples in a storm they were afraid would destroy them. And when we get down into those valleys, when we go through those storms, and we feel like the boat of our life is being swamped, we don't like that. But faith trusts God that he is still in control, he is still doing what he believes is best, and that even through those valleys, he is continuing his wholesome work in our lives.
In Luke 8, here are the disciples scared to death in a storm. In the very next chapter of Luke, chapter 9, you find these same disciples being sent out by Jesus as courageous and effective missionaries. What do you suppose the relationship is between what they learned in that storm in Luke 8 and the effectiveness of their faith as missionaries in Luke 9?
I suggest to you there is a direct line between the two of them. In that storm which they did not like and could not understand and wanted to get out of, God was busy at work in their lives with fruit that would only become obvious later.
You must remember the same today. I am praying today that this tragic, wrenching, painful event will be used by God so productively in the lives of many of you today that a year from now—five years from now, ten years from now, twenty-five years from now—you'll look back and say, "Do you remember Bob Huizenga, and when he died? He was a classmate of mine back then, and his death marked a turning point in my life."
I say that's why faith lets God include events in our lives that at the time we don't like.
There is an old legend that comes from a small town in Germany that for a number of years experienced very poor harvests. Finally those townspeople went to God at the beginning of the year and said, "God, our harvests have been so poor and so scarce, for one year will you let us plan everything?"
God said, "All right; for one year." And so, whenever they asked for rain, God sent rain. And whenever they asked for sun, God sent sun. The corn never grew higher, and the wheat never grew thicker. But when harvest came, they discovered that the tall corn had no ear, and the thick wheat had no head of grain. They cried out, "God, you have failed us. We asked for sun, and you sent sun. We asked for rain, and you sent rain. But there is no crop."
God said, "No. You never asked for the harsh north winds. Without the harsh north winds, there is no pollination, and with no pollination, there is no crop."
I suggest to you today, in God's very loving hand, this is the harsh north wind that God is going to use to bring a crop. And faith says, "Okay, God, I trust you. Go ahead."
Faith looks at God, not the storm
But faith does something else, too. It refuses to panic. It goes ahead without the answers. It allows God to include events in our lives that we don't like. And finally, faith determines to realize that relationships are more important than answers. By that I mean, faith realizes that our relationship with God is far more important than getting answers to all of our questions.
I can live without answers to a lot of my questions, and I've got a lot of them. Oh, it'd be nice if I could get answers. But that's optional. That's extra. I can live without answers, but I cannot live without knowing I belong to God. Neither can you. You can live without answers—it will be difficult—but you cannot live without knowing you belong to God.
And that's why in that boat on the Sea of Galilee, what Jesus really said to those disciples was this: "Look at the storm less, and look at me more."
He really expected those disciples in that boat to say, "I feel the wind, I sense the rain, I see the waves coming over the side of the boat, I feel the boat rocking, and I feel it even beginning to sink. But I see Jesus, and because I see Jesus, I know it's okay."
That's the heart of it all. God has made it clear how we can know that we belong to him through Jesus. He made that clear through the Cross of Jesus, dying there for our sins. He made it clear by the empty tomb, so that he was raised so we could be raised. And he made it clear by the Gospels, in which he calls all of us during these years that he gives us on this planet to repent of our sins and trust him as Savior and put our lives into his hands as Lord. Doing that is far more important than getting answers to all of the questions that whirl around us today.
And so, today, we grieve. But because we know that Bob belonged to Jesus, and because we know that we belong to Jesus, we are able to go ahead.
As you grieve today, my dear friends, I cannot point you to answers. But I point you to Jesus. And in the final analysis, he's God's big answer. For all eternity he is. I say that to all of you. I point you to Jesus. May he be with you. May he always hold you. That, in the final analysis, is what really counts.
Jesus is holding Bob now. How about you?
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?