Some thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

In Mark chapter 4, Mark recounts a day of Jesus telling stories to a number of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When evening came, Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side. So, leaving the crowds behind, the disciples and Jesus set out in a boat, and other boats went with them. A great storm blew up, with furious winds and waves so large they began breaking into the boat, threatening to swamp it.

Jesus, meanwhile, was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.

If you were reading this passage, which is only a few verses long, you would discover very quickly that all ends well. In fact, most Bibles have a heading for this passage that is something like “Jesus Calms the Storm,” so you know the outcome before you even begin reading.

The disciples, however, did not know the ending. All they knew was that, because of Jesus’ instructions, they were out in the middle of the sea in a terrible storm that was filling their not-so-large boat with water, and they react in the same way as many other biblical characters, whose “hard times” left them uncertain and sorrowful and doubting. Unlike many other biblical characters, though, the disciples’ ordeal did not last very long. (A couple months ago I wrote a post about how waiting and suffering are often compressed in Scriptural accounts; ten seconds of reading, and we’re through months/years/decades of struggle. We have to identify with the characters—we have to take time ourselves—in order to gain a clearer sense of the story.) To identify with the disciples in this story, though, we don’t need to imagine the toll of a long stretch of time; we need to imagine the panic of a perfectly good situation suddenly gone terribly wrong.

As I read this story over and over, what caught my attention was this: the disciples were exactly where they were supposed to be. They’d followed Jesus’ directions; he was there with them; they hadn’t left him behind to follow their own whims. They’d made no bad decision or been foolish or rash. They were right where Jesus wanted and told them to be.

But they still encountered a storm.

A great storm, one with howling winds and waves tall enough to menace above the sides of their boat like monsters and then crash down upon them. A storm strong enough that even the seasoned fishermen among them feared for their lives.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done exactly what you thought Jesus was telling you to do and then found yourself in the middle of a storm? Did you start to wonder if you’d done something wrong? Misheard his voice? Wandered off on your own path? Failed to do something right?

My brother-in-law recently suggested to me that perhaps Jesus knew the storm was coming and was actually leading the disciples into a test of their faith.

Could be. Could be that he wanted the disciples’ faith in him to stretch to cosmic proportion—beyond physical healings to authority over the sky and sea.

Could also not be. Jesus, self-limited as he was in humanness, might not have known the storm was coming. Perhaps he just went out on the boat with the disciples knowing he needed rest and in full assurance that no matter what happened, God would be right there caring for them.

We don’t know which is the case. All we know is that when the disciples woke Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and told the wind and the waves to be still. And after the storm stopped–immediately!–he turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And then the disciples were really afraid and they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The boat, the disciples, and Jesus reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee with no ill effects. Not all our storms end this way, with every person accounted for, with no lasting injuries or loss. Some storms take years, even a lifetime, to recover from. Some storms don’t end. Some storms are of our own making, and regret compounds our pain.

But, no matter the circumstances of your particular storm, we can know that God has good for us–“best” for us–in the middle of the tempest. God is not spiteful; God does not have an awful sense of humor; God is not conducting a faith experiment for research purposes; God is not plopping us in the midst of it like numbered lab rats. Rather God, who calls His people the apple of His eye, wants us to find that He has provided an eye in the center of the squall specifically planned for each of us. He has for us the certainty that—even when all evidence points to the contrary—we are seen and known and loved and cared for.

We are much like the disciples. The best, in their opinion, was a trouble-free trip across the sea. For the landlubbers among them, the best was probably their feet touching solid ground on the other side after a smooth crossing.

But God, as we are told, sees things very differently. And in God’s view, our presence in His eye is His absolute best for us.

Hymns and Hydrangeas

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of doing a Bible Telling session with a group of women. I chose for us to work with the story of Bartimaeus (partly because it’s very short), and by the end of the session, the women were telling each other the story. This was supposed to be just a quick example of a Bible Telling followed by a time of my sharing about Greenhouse Movement, but when I asked everyone to share what jumped out at them from hearing the story, they had so many insights the session stretched much longer!

Darlene Krueger hosted the event, and I want to tell you about Hymns and Hydrangeas, the business she and her friend Pam Wyma have started to support missionaries. I am one of their missionaries (which I think is so amazing!). They design and make beautiful fabrics with the words of hymns on them and then make tea towels (which would be suitable for wall hangings!), pillows, and baby blankets from the fabrics. Please check out their wonderful work and consider buying something! Your purchase supports their missionaries.

Go to the “About” page on the Hymns and Hydrangeas site to read about Darlene, Pam, and the three missionaries they support. Go to the “order” page to make a purchase. They also have a Facebook page.

One last thing: I am now sending out a monthly email update. If you would like to receive that, just fill out the form below. Thanks so much!

 

 

An Article Share

An article suggested by one of my friends caught my eye, and I’m posting a link to it here. This past winter, for a class taught by Scot McKnight, I read the book of Acts multiple times in conjunction with Paul’s epistles, and what jumped out at me most was Paul’s insistence on the point of unity of the church. Christ’s Body was brought into reality through God the Son putting on flesh and crossing the greatest barrier, and this Body must strive for unity; it must actively work against division. This article, posted in Christianity Today Women, speaks to this and makes some excellent points. It’s written by Helen Lee, whom I heard speak a number of years ago (the link is to her personal website, where she writes much about diversity and unity), and the article is titled “Why White-Centered Discipleship Hurts Us All: A Vision for Bringing Racial Equity to the Spiritual Training of Women.

Silence

I have begun Silence (by Shusako Endo) and have not finished it. It is, as Miriam writes in her blog post (reblogged here), an incredibly difficult read. Her thoughts on it–inspired by a quote from Lilias Trotter (and for more info on Lilias, visit Miriam’s “About Lilias” page)–are well worth reading. They make me want to again tackle Silence as well as Fugimura’s Silence and Beauty. Blessings, dear friends. ~Jen

Lilias Trotter

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                         “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”                        Journal 1898

Silence.  My copy of this classic novel, by Shusako Endo, remained unopened on our library table for weeks.  Never have I approached reading a book with such a mix of emotions: anticipation of a highly acclaimed book; reluctance given the subject of persecution and apostasy.

The story of the 17th century effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan was told largely through letters of the Jesuit priest, Rodrigues, who against all counsel, made the dangerous two-year journey from Portugal to Japan, knowing that his life would be in mortal danger.  His purpose was two-fold:  to determine the truth about his mentor who was rumored to have apostatized; to be a priest for…

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A blog share

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and when I arrived at church, I received a tulip.

So did both my daughters.

So did every woman who arrived at our church yesterday–whether single or married, biological mother or not.

I am glad of this–because every one of us is called to a mothering of one kind or another. My children have several spiritual mothers, and I’m grateful for every woman who pours into their lives. My children need them. I need them. They receive mothering from all kinds of women–from me, from their grandmother, from their female teachers, from the young women who work in their after-school program, from the coaches who lead their soccer teams…

They are challenged and encouraged and pushed and comforted and guided and stretched and corrected–by all these women in ways that are specific to each one.

They need more than one “mother,” and, most of all, they need the motherly love of God, who, though generally referred to as “Father,” also speaks of himself as “motherly.”

I was very blessed this morning to read Mike Frost’s post “The Ferocious Motherly Love of God,” on this topic, and I am so glad to share it with you. May it encourage you as it encouraged me.

Grace and peace this day.

~Jen

 

a dose of gladness

flowersThis morning, as the dog ran in the park, I sat on a bench, leaned back, and lifted my face—and then had to squint because the sun hung in the air so bright it seemed to make the blue of the sky and the edges of the young leaves almost pulse with intensity.

It felt too sharp.

Friday night my husband came home from his inner-city school and went straight into our bedroom. I followed him in, took one look at his face, and shut the door behind me. Between tears, he shared with me one tragedy after another he’d learned of that very day. The violence and dysfunction in several neighborhoods had spilled over, and several students and one teacher had endured trauma and loss and setback.

No matter where you teach, there is always hardship. No matter where you live, there is always heartache. But we’re learning that when you teach in an inner-city school, when you live in an under-resourced neighborhood, the hardship and heartache seem to be the norm rather than the exception. The students and teachers at Dave’s school are always going through something, but this past week, there was simply too much. Their young, vibrant principal called a special meeting Friday and, in tears herself, relayed to her staff one story after another after another.

“We have to love each other,” she told them at the meeting’s end. “We have to encourage each other and love our kids and get rest. This is really, really hard.”

Yes, it is.

After Dave told me everything, and we cried together, he lay on the bed and fell asleep. And I went out and explained to our kids and our guest that it was going to be a slightly different evening than we’d planned. And our wonderful guest said that was perfectly all right.

The weekend rolled on. Soccer on Saturday morning and an evening spent with friends; church on Sunday and then, unfortunately, lots of homework. But underneath was heaviness.

So this morning, between sending Dave and the kids off to school and getting to work myself, I took the dog to the park and thought and prayed about the hard things I know about and all those I don’t, and then I just needed to sit down.

And the sunlight was too bright.

How, God, when you know all the darkness, all the sorrow, all the hurt and pain and evil inflicted by humans upon each other—and even on themselves—how does the sun still shine? How is the sky so blue, the trees so green?

If I were you, clouds would hover above the sites of such tragedies; trees would stand bare and stark in sorrow at what they have seen; the sun would hide; and the grass and flowers would shrivel in horror at what we humans do to each other, at what some humans must endure.

And yet…

And yet, the sight of a tree breaking into purple flower still caused me to smile—just this morning.

How?

I don’t know, but I do know that in the midst of all this, we need gladness in small doses and large, to whatever degree we can take it.

So today I pray that for a few particular students, one particular teacher, a couple of graduates, a student now in search of a new school. I pray that something—like purple flowers, the brilliant blue sky, the squinting-ly shining sun or the gleaming green of the trees—makes them smile today in spite of everything. Better yet, Abba, may a fellow human, bearing your image and your presence, make them glad.

In spite of everything, may they sense a love that cannot be explained or seen but which is real, is true.

Is you.

Taize, March 2017

I tucked the candle and its paper drip guard

in the hymnal rack of the pew in front of me

til we sang “Christ Jesus, light of our hearts, we praise you”

and a young girl made her way down the aisle,

lighting the tapers of those at each row’s end.

My friend Beth’s candle burst into flame

and I leaned mine to meet its glowing tip.

My wick, too, sparked to brightness,

burning fast, flame high, wax flowing.

My weary mind fixated on the flame and flow,

And the shrinking of my candle.

The candle—me.

Around me people sang in Spanish:

Nada te turbe/nada te espante/

quien a Dios tiene nada le falta/

nada te turbe/nada te espante/

solo Dios basta.

I translated bits in my mind,

but mostly watched the wax drip, drip, drip.

Melting, lessened, reduced.

Reduced.

Lower, lower it burned.

Then, same song, English words:

Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.

Those who seek God will never go wanting.

Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.

God alone fills us.

I remembered the Spanish: solo Dios basta

Basta—enough.

We filed to the front,

placed our candles in sand-filled bowls at the foot of the cross,

returned to our seats.

From there I could not see the candles,

But their collective glow lit up the Christ painted on the cross.

Another song began

and the cross was lifted from among the candles

Placed in front of them, flat on the ground.

Come forward, we were invited.

Come to the cross.

The line was long.

I watched the candles.

Many had burned down to nubs,

their flames low in the sand.

Others still stood tall.

My turn.

In the flames’ flicker, the painted face and hands

of the Christ on the cross seemed to move.

When I knelt, put my hand on his,

I almost expected them to clasp together.

Around me voices rose.

The final line washed over me.

Love and do not fear.

What do you want me to do for you?

 

My daughter, Emily, did this piece. If you’d like to see more of her work, visit her Etsy shop, appropriately name Lettering by Em

There were a lot of things that had to be “just so” in my son Jake’s life when he was a toddler. Unfortunately he was a late talker, so he wasn’t usually able to tell me what they were. He simply threw himself on the floor and wailed. I had to figure it out by trial and error—and sometimes I never did!

 

I remember standing in front of him (more than once), yelling, “What Do You Want Me To Do?”

He couldn’t tell me. Sometimes I’m not sure he knew. Things Just Weren’t Right.

~~~~

Bartimaeus squatted by the side of the dusty road, one hand outstretched. He waggled his fingers when he heard people pass and sometimes felt the weight of a coin dropped into his palm, mostly light ones but every once in a while a heavier piece. One evening, as he sat, his body aching from the hard ground, his arm tired, people gathered around him, jostled him. A parade? Some government official passing by?

He asked.

“Jesus,” someone told him. “The Teacher. Surely you’ve heard of him.”

Bartimaeus had. Word of Jesus had spread among the beggars in the city. They shared tales of lame men whose legs had suddenly grown strong, lepers whose skin had become smooth, and blind men who’d had their sight restored. Jesus had been part of every story, right in the middle of it. What had Isaiah said the Messiah would do? Proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind.

“Jesus!” It was too crowded for him to stand, but Bartimaus could yell. “Jesus!”

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Shush,” those around him said. A few people stepped in front of him. He was smothered by the crowd.

But Bartimaeus yelled louder.

“Son of David, have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!” Someone slapped his head, but Bartimaeus shoved the hand away. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Suddenly the people around him stilled. He felt those in front of him move to the sides.

“Call him over.”

Who was that? Who said that?

Voices close to him said, “He’s talking to you! He wants to see you! Get up! Get over there.”

Bartimaeus shoved his cloak off his shoulders and jumped to his feet. Someone gave him a push in the right direction. He stumbled forward.

He stopped. He knew he was close. He could sense the man in front of him. Bartimaeus began trembling. “Son of David,” he whispered, “have mercy on me.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” said the voice.

~~~

What do you want me to do for you?

Jesus, his King, was asking him, a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.”

But the first thing Bartimaeus saw was Jesus, the Son of David, his King.

And his way was no longer his own.

His way was following Jesus.

~~~

Like Bartimaeus, I cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” Sometimes it is loud and articulate; sometimes little more than a whisper. Sometimes, like my then-toddler son, it is no more than a wail, a sob, a plea. And as he did with Bartimaeus, Jesus, the Son of David, King of the universe, my Lord, asks me, “What do you want me to do for you?” He never says it in frustration, and he doesn’t ask because he doesn’t know. He does know. He knows what I want—what I need!—more than anyone else. He knows it far better than I know it myself.

What do you want me to do for you?

I want to see you, Jesus. I want to see you.

 

a request

(Warning: This is not a normal blog post!) Dear readers, as many of you know, I’m living now on the west side of Chicago, where Dave and I feel God has specifically led our family. Dave is teaching at a high school here that serves under-resourced students, and in early January I went on staff with Greenhouse Movement, a church-planting and partnering organization. I was specifically brought on staff to work with Bible Telling here on the west side of Chicago (I’m SO excited about this! I get to write and teach and connect with people–and all of it’s related to the story of God!).

Greenhouse is a missionary organization, so I am in the very faith-stretching process of finding my team of supporters. I know God already knows who they are, and He’s the one who will prompt them to join the team; my job is simply to share the vision of Greenhouse and the specifics of my ministry with as many people as possible! I decided to put this on my blog because I thought there might be some readers who would want to know more and who might, after talking with me, want to join my team. So if you’re reading this, and you would like to hear more about Greenhouse and what I will be doing, PLEASE email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com

I would love to talk with you!

Thanks!

~Jen~