One of my favorite stories is about Chippie the parakeet. Chippie was a happy little bird, content every day to sit on his perch, swinging and singing to his little heart’s content. One day Chippie’s owner took the initiative to clean out his cage. She took off the attachment from the end of the vacuum hose and stuck it in the cage to remove the sediment from the bottom. Just then the phone rang. She turned to pick it up and had barely said hello when "ssopp!" Chippie got sucked in!
As you can imagine, the bird owner gasped, dropped the phone, turned off the vacuum and ripped open the bag. Inside, there lay Chippie, still alive but stunned by the trauma. The bird was covered with all the terrible grit and grime that fills vacuum bags, so the owner did the only thing she could think to do. She grabbed him up, raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under running water. Then realizing poor little Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any good bird owner would do, she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the little guy with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A couple of days after the experience the reporter who first wrote about the event talked to Chippie’s owner. He asked how the bird was doing. She said, "Well Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore-he just sits and stares." It’s no wonder. One minute the little guy was swinging and singing, and before he knew it, he was sucked in, washed up and blown over. If that doesn’t turn your song into a blank stare, nothing will. (From Max Lucado, In The Eye Of The Storm, p. 11)
My guess is, most of us can relate to Chippie. There are times when life treats us more harshly than we expect. It might be something as small as a cutting remark from someone we consider a friend, or it could be something as major as the death of a spouse. It might be hearing the word "malignant" from the lips of a doctor, or it could be the collapse of a business that you’ve invested your life in. It’s possible to get battered, bruised and blown away by rough times and difficult circumstances. When those things happen often the best we can muster is a blank stare, and our song sometimes seems like a distant memory.
Last week we looked at the parable of the wise and foolish builders, both of them were trying to build a good life for themselves. But the story went on to tell us that the life they were building was threatened by the storms. Hard times and difficult circumstances threatened their well-being, and only the one anchored on the solid rock of a relationship with Christ was able to withstand the pressure of the storm. This morning we are going to look at another passage about a storm, and we are going to learn even more about handling the storms of life.
Text: Matthew 8:23-27
You know, when I read through a passage like that, I can’t help but ask a question. "Why does God allow storms in our life?" I mean, think about it a minute. If He is all-powerful, couldn’t God make our life smooth sailing if He wanted to? Wouldn’t it be nice if He cut out all the storms and simply made the seas that we sail on as smooth as glass? It seems like life would be much better if we didn’t have to go through rough times, but I’m guessing God has His reasons.
I learned a little about storms this week. Did you know that hurricanes are important to maintaining the balance of the earth’s ecosystem? You’ve no doubt seen on TV the devastation that hurricanes cause especially along the coasts. But did you realize that those storms serve a very important purpose? They dissipate a large percentage of the tremendous heat that builds up at the equator across the globe. Not only that, but they are indirectly responsible for much of the rainfall in North and South America. For a while meteorologists experimented with cloud-seeding techniques to prevent hurricanes from forming, but they quit because they came to recognize that in the big picture hurricanes actually do more good than harm.
Lightning storms are sometimes devastating. They can kill a person instantly. They knock down trees, destroy buildings, start huge fires when the ground is dry, and just the noise can scare a person to death. But do you realize that lightning is essential for plant life to exist on earth? The atmosphere contains nitrogen, but it doesn’t easily combine with other gasses. If it did, we would all be poisoned by different forms of nitrous gasses. However, by a charge of electricity coursing through the atmosphere, nitrogen is transferred from the atmosphere to the soil. Every day one hundred thousand bolts of lightning strike the earth. This process creates usable nitrogen in the soil to nourish the plant. We may not like the lightning storms, but they are a necessary part of life on earth.
Now what I’m wondering is if Matthew might be trying to teach us something about dealing with difficult times in our life by telling us about a stormy situation he faced on the Sea of Galilee. There is more to this story than a storm tossed boat with thirteen passengers. It seems to me Matthew tells us this story to teach us at least a couple of very important lessons.
1. God allows us to go through storms so that we can find out that He is more powerful than they are.
Obviously this incident in the middle of the Sea of Galilee made a big impact on Matthew. He remembered it many years later as he wrote it down for us. Why do you think Matthew considered this story important enough to tell us? In his three years of living and traveling with Jesus there were certainly other incidents he left out. I think the key is in the response of the disciples after Jesus calmed the storm. (v. 27) "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" They learned just how powerful Jesus was!
I wonder if a smile came over Matthew’s face later in his life when he read Psalm 89:8-9. It says "O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them." The message of this incident was one that Matthew thought very important for us to understand. You will never face a difficult circumstance in your life that is too tough for Jesus to handle. He may not immediately still the storm in your life, but if He doesn’t it’s because He still has some lessons to teach you about hanging on through the stormy seas. James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Evidently, if the storm is still raging, God isn’t finished with His work. He is making sure you are mature and complete for the things He wants you to do in the future. Hold on to Him and don’t even think about letting go. Even though Jesus is more powerful than the storm, on your own you may not be!
Some time back Bob Russell told the story of Daryl Gilliard. Daryl was born an illegitimate child in New York City. He learned later that his mother wanted to abort him, but his father convinced her not to. As an infant, Daryl’s parents took him to an acquaintance in Florida and asked her to keep him until they found work. They never returned.
Fortunately, the foster mother was a dedicated Christian. For seven years, she taught Daryl about One who loved him more than he could imagine. She said, "Now your mother and father have deserted you, but there is One who loved you enough to die for you." She taught him to sing, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
When Daryl Gilliard was only seven years old, his foster mother died. For a while he was tossed around from house to house in that Florida community. At age thirteen, with no place else to go, he began living under a Florida highway overpass. He lived there until he graduated from high school. He stuck it out in school because he knew he had a sharp mind. He continued to excel in class in spite of his circumstances. He explained that sometimes he studied by the light of a nearby convenience store.
Daryl went on to say that often he would step out from under the overpass, look up at the stars and ask, "Why, God? Why? Is it too much for a thirteen-year-old boy to ask for a soft bed? Is it too much for a thirteen-year-old boy to ask for a hot meal? Why don’t You help me? Where are You?" He said, one day God spoke to him. "I don’t care what your theology is," Daryl said, "God spoke to me and said, ’Trust Me.’"
In spite of those terrible circumstances, Daryl did so well in school that he received a scholarship to college. Later he entered the ministry, becoming an effective communicator and appearing on several TV programs. After he was a guest on The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, a New York woman got in touch with him and said, "I know a man…who looks exactly like you."
Daryl pursued her information and discovered the man she referred to actually was the father he hadn’t seen since infancy. His dad was in a New York hospital suffering from a stroke brought on by drug abuse. He went to visit his father, who was in the same hospital where Daryl had been born. A distant relative introduced him, "Mr. Gilliard, this is your son. The one you left in Florida. Can you believe that?"
Daryl said to his father, "Dad, I’m so glad I found you. I just want to thank you for not aborting me. I want to thank you for letting me live. I love you."
His weakened father sat up and said, "I love you, too, son." Over the next hour or so, Daryl was able to tell his earthly father about One who was a Father to them both. It was a great event in his life to be able to present the gospel to his dad.
While in New York, Daryl learned about his family. His brothers and sisters lived in dreadful circumstances. Their community was infested with crime, drugs, immorality, and alcoholism. Several of his brothers were in jail and other family members were addicted to drugs. He said, "Now I understood. Now I knew why God had me living under that overpass in Florida. He was protecting me! I would never have made it living in that awful environment in New York City. I have so much to thank God for. I thought He had deserted me when actually He was preserving me!" (From God Does Immeasurably More by Bob Russell, pp. 119-121) (After posting this sermon, I received feedback that Daryl Gilliard was exposed as a fraud.)
You know, there’s nothing wrong with asking God questions as to why the storms are rolling through your life. There’s nobody else better to ask. However, as you ask, realize what God is doing in the big picture. He is teaching you to lean on Him more. He is helping you to understand that He is more powerful than any storm you will face. Don’t try to go it alone.
There is a second lesson, and to be quite honest I’m still learning this one myself.
2. In the midst of the storm, we don’t need to be afraid as long as Jesus is at our side.
It seems like that’s why Jesus chastises the guys in the boat. It’s not that they disturbed His sleep, and it’s not that they asked Him to calm the storm. The key is in His reply "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" That word translated "afraid" is a strong word in the original Greek, literally "cowardly." Barclay wrote, "He does not chide them for disturbing him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their fears." If you have a personal relationship with Jesus you don’t have to be afraid. (Pause) Let that sink in for a moment and feel the lesson that Matthew wanted you to understand. It doesn’t matter how big the waves are or how small your boat is, you don’t have to be afraid if Jesus is in the boat with you.
Let me leave the metaphors behind and say it straight. It doesn’t matter how difficult and painful your circumstances are, if you have given your life to Jesus, He will get you through them. No matter if you face failure, betrayal, disease, or even death, God will bear you through it. You are precious to God, and no matter what it feels like, He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t deserted you, and He hasn’t let you slip through His fingers. Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7 "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
So the next time your situation makes you feel as if you’ve been sucked in, washed up and blown over don’t be afraid. If you have a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, and if the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, then keep hanging on. Let the power of God carry you through the trial you face. In addition, thank God that He loves you enough to use this difficult circumstance to help you face the future He has in store for you.
Now I want to speak directly to those of you who have never given your life to Christ. Have you ever felt that the storms of life were overwhelming you? If you have, then you have to ask yourself this question. "Do I want to face these storms alone?" You don’t have to. The good news of Jesus Christ is that He offers you the opportunity to give your life to Him, and He will protect you, provide for you, and carry you through the storm. But you have to be willing to do what the disciples in the boat did. You have to ask Him to save you and trust Him enough to respond to Him in faith.