Monday, November 26, 2018

Who Is Driving? - Stolen Rembrandt 
Christ Calms The Sea
I have another post I wanted to share based on a Sunday School lesson a few weeks ago by a man in our church. He quoted Mark 4:35-40, the story of Jesus calming the storm. The story was used to emphasize a point in his lesson.

If you've attended Sunday School as a kid, you know this story. You can watch a short video of it here if you like. Or you can read the text:

Mark 4:35-41 King James Version (KJV)

35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 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?
39 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.
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
As I was reading the text something set me to thinking. It's a small detail that, while I may have always known it, I never really thought much about it. "And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow:". 

Ships, great and small, have a front, back, and sides but they don't call them that. The front is the bow or stem. The left is port and the right is starboard. The back is the stern or, in this case, the hinder part of the ship. I thought about the implication of Jesus being asleep in the stern of the ship. Why the stern? Well, it might be calmer in the rear. As a boat moves along on the water, the bow hits waves and will bounce. Not very conducive to a sound sleep, and let's be clear here, Jesus was sleeping soundly. A violent storm with thrashing waves, rain, wind, lightning, and probably thunder was going on around him and he slept through it. So, obviously the stern is a good place to sleep.

Aside from a comfy mattress, what made the stern special? I'm not a sailor but I know enough to know that a sailing ship is powered by wind. The sails propel the ship across the surface of the water. If the wind dies, the sails are useless and the ship will come to a dead stop. However, while the sails are powerful in the wind, they are not responsible for directing the path of the ship. That job belongs to the rudder, a relatively small item in the very rear of the ship, extending into the water. It is attached to the tiller, which in the case of small sailing vessels, is manipulated by a human being... sitting in the stern of the ship. The reason there was a pillow is because sitting on a hard bench is uncomfortable, especially if you're spending a lot of time at the tiller, your back against the rail and your butt on a board.

OK, are you getting this? Cause I can spell it out.

At some point, Jesus was sitting in the stern, right next to the rudder, a type of steering wheel, of the boat he was in. He fell asleep. The storm came up.

I'm skeptical that you could lie down in the stern of the ship with someone else operating the rudder. You'd really be in their way. They have to manipulate the tiller to direct the rudder, to turn the ship. In a storm, this would be an insane job. And there's this guy sleeping under your feet? Uh, no, on your seat!

I don't think anyone else was steering that ship. I think Jesus, who was already in the ship when they got in. (See verse 36) And to my way of thinking, he was driving the bus... I mean boat.

Make of it what you will. But I see him getting up and saying (metaphorically), "Hey, will you relax! I'm driving this boat. And I'm managing this storm." The driver of the boat steered them right into a storm that he was controlling.

It was a profound revelation for me but during my research I discovered one more interesting thing. In virtually all the paintings and images I reviewed, Jesus is standing in the bow of the ship, not seated or lying in the stern. I Googled dozens of pages until I ran across an article about a stolen Rembrandt, the image at the top of the page. It is a beautiful painting and it shows Jesus on the starboard side, near the stern but not in the stern. Why do all the painters place him in the bow?

Because in our small minds, a man in charge will be in the front of the ship, sails filled with the power of the wind. And yet, in a storm, that would be the last thing you'd want. In storms, you shorten or reef the sails so they get the least amount of wind. Billowing sails can cause an imbalance that will swamp you or damage your vessel.These were experienced fishermen in that ship. They would have already done everything they knew to do before they woke Jesus. The sails wouldn't have been billowing, they'd be reefed.

The story takes on a whole new significance to me after this. Jesus was steering the ship and they were worried. No wonder he said, "Why are you afraid. Why do you have so little faith (in me and my abilities)?"

How many times have I felt that Jesus was asleep and not paying attention to what was going on around us? Oh how many times I've forgotten who was steering the whole time!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Effects of a Grateful Heart

Yes, I know Thanksgiving is over and we're headed for Christmas but this post has been gnawing at me for two or three weeks. It is time to share it.

My pastor is such an awesome teacher and I really enjoy Sunday School for that reason. Every sermon I come away with something good. A few weeks ago, and I can't remember the date, he preached on gratitude. During the sermon he cited a familiar passage that I'm sure everyone reading this has heard. This is the story of the 10 lepers.
Luke 17:11-19 King James Version (KJV)
11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
Leprosy is a bacterial infection that affects the skin, eyes, nose, and peripheral nerves. It still exist today and a person can have it for decades without symptoms. The lack of sensation in the nerves can lead to severe injuries. Over time, a person can lose fingers, toes, ears, and even the nose from it. The signs of the advance disease can be horrible with missing or deformed extremities and facial features.

In this passage, the lepers ask Jesus to heal them. In those days, lepers were expelled from the community because they were contagious or considered unclean. They weren't allowed to attend religious services or visit their families. They had to beg for their survival and live in caves or where ever they could find shelter. If their leprosy cleared up, they had to present themselves to the priest. Only the priest could declare them clean or healed from the disease and allow them to return to their normal lives.

During the lesson I thought about this. Jesus sent the men to the priest to verify they were cleansed of the disease. Of those ten men, only one turned back to thank him. Almost as an afterthought, we're reminded that he is a Samaritan.

I read up on them a bit while writing this. Samaritans were not accepted by the Jews but they claim to be descendants of Aaron, which would make them brothers. The information I obtained in research said Samaritan means "keeper of the law". This would explain the behavior of the Good Samaritan and probably this leper who returned to worship and give thanks.

As I listened to the lesson, something else struck me. I don't know why I missed it in the past. A life spent in church means I'm pretty familiar with a tremendous amount of Bible stories. This one is of the more famous variety. Yet, I never noticed something and it reminded me why I prefer the King James Version of the Bible over other translations.

The last verse in the NIV says this: Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
 The KJV says:  And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. 

That may be a small difference to you and unimportant but it is a vast world of difference to me. Jesus cleansed all 10 lepers and sent them to the priest to be verified. One turned back and Jesus was stunned both by his honor and because this was a Samaritan. The Samaritan was bound by his obedience to the law to give thanks for cleansing. And Jesus' reaction was profound. He didn't just cleanse #10. He made him whole.

Let that sink in a minute. While I was sitting through the lesson I felt what I hope you're feeling right now, this kind of internal gasp.

Jesus didn't just cleanse the 10th leper. He actually restored all the missing parts. He could return to his family. Everyone who knew him would see the astonishing miracle of his healing. He'd have to explain how those missing fingers or ears were no longer missing. The other nine could also go home, but they'd be forever reminded of their past. Those who knew them would also see the evidence. However, Jesus made the 10th leper whole because of a grateful heart and an obedience to his faith.

Gratitude is essential if you want to be whole. An ungrateful heart creates missing components to your life. Let's always turn back to give Him thanks for His lovingkindness and mercy.