With the awful reality of a new and frightening type of terror attack being perpetrated in the streets of our country, my mind returns to the recent memory of a more peaceful day. On that evening, the gentle breezes rustling through the palm trees was matched in melodious beauty by the crash of the waves against the shore.
As if in a symphony, the voices of some 50 worshippers rose in praise to our awesome God as we sang of His goodness at the outdoor service on Little Gasparilla Island.
Erica Emmanuel, the pastor's wife, led us in Hillsong's "Oceans":
"You call me out upon the waters,
The great unknown—where feet may fail.
And there I find you in the mystery,
In oceans deep,
My faith will stand.
And I will call upon your name. And keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace. For I am yours, and you are mine.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand, will be my guide. Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, you've never failed, and you won't start now.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, Wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior."
Our purpose as we gathered several weeks ago was to thank God for His mercy on our little island through the raging hurricanes that bludgeoned our corner of the world. Even while we met in praise, we prayed for those who still suffer from Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
My heart is drawn to those suffering from other types of storms too. For some, recent "storms" have come in the form of raging fires or massive earthquakes. For others, personal torrents of abuse or betrayal threaten to wreak havoc in broken hearts. As recently as this week, acts of terror by those within our borders obliterate both lives and the ability for people to feel safe. As a nation, it seems that political tsunamis are daily engulfing both our sanity and civility.
When we face such trials and fear, it's critical to remember not just that Jesus is with us, but who He is.
Pastor Keren Emmanuel shared the account in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus led His disciples onto an old fishing boat and then promptly fell asleep just as a huge storm erupted, threatening their very lives.
As the waves flooded the tiny boat, and the winds and rains whipped the terrified fishermen, Jesus slept.
He slept until His followers could no longer contain their fear and woke Him with a cry, "Don't you care about us?"
Have you ever cried out to God, questioning if He still cares? I know I have.
Although I've been familiar with the story in Mark since my childhood, the pastor pointed to a phrase in the passage that I had never noticed before. In Verse 36, it says that when the disciples agreed to go with Jesus across the sea, they "took Him as he was."
Why is it that when things look dire, we often forget to "take Jesus as He is?" Even people of abiding faith have a tendency to split Him up into a part-time savior.
For some reason, we don't think that the God who delivered us from, say, a health crisis can now deliver us from a bad circumstance at work. We forget who He is.
"When the mortgage is three months late or our marriage is falling apart, we forget," Mr. Emmanuel said. "When retirement seems like work, Part 2; when rough waters hit, we forget who He is. I implore you to stop and consider exactly who it is that is in your boat."
We need to learn to leave Jesus as He is in all circumstances, at all times; to reject the temptation to shape Him into something less than who He is.
It's a beautiful, miraculous, continuous truth that is ours to embrace and sear into our souls: Christ doesn't change, even though our situations do, even when our faith waivers.
And although He does not always choose to deliver us from all of our circumstances, He promises to work all things together for our good if we love and follow Him. Nothing is ever wasted in God's economy, not even our deepest hurt or most painful loss.
Whatever you are facing, embrace the fullness of Christ, leaving Jesus as He is: The Alpha and Omega. Wonderful Counselor. Redeemer. Lord of Lords. Righteous Judge. Prince of Peace. Light of the World. Savior. Mighty God.
"Be still and know that He is God."