On the Way to Aquatics Merit Badge Jesus Wants to Know: Why Are You Afraid

Here's a picture. I'm sitting in a rowboat, lying off the shoreline 50 yards. Through the pines, I see them coming, maybe 100 strong. Shorts and shirts, sneakers and flip-flops, rolled towels and swim trunks under their arms. And they are making a racket. It's the Scouts of Broad Creek. They're on their way to the waterfront to qualify for their Aquatics Merit Badge. It's back in the day when I got to be Chaplain to that mighty, sometimes maddening crew. They come armed with their own questions. And ready to answer questions made ready for them. They come, ready to show they're ready for the next step in the scouting adventure.

Here's another picture. Boats on the lake. Thirteen men on the shore. Making some racket. Getting ready to cast off with Jesus. 'Time to show this ex-carpenter their "aquatic stuff". Afterall, they're the fishermen; he's now the rabbi. Oh, it all goes fine at first. Swimmingly, pardon the pun! Well enough that the Rabbi, gently rocked by the roll of the water and lulled by the lullaby of the breeze, dozes off. That's when it all falls apart. Black clouds on the horizon. Oh, the fishers know it's time to head for shore! Quick!… Too late. The wind rushes in. The waves follow. "Master, wake up! We could be going down! Don't you care?" (We're good at asking Jesus questions. Especially in peril or a panic.) Jesus rouses. He draws a breath to speak a word. And it's like, it's like he inhales the wind. "Peace! Be still!" he exhales. The gale calms. The water stills and watches… to see what happens next. Well, right here's where Jesus asks them a question. "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" Christ looks at us and still wants to know. Oh, friends, they were filled with… awe, and asked each other, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

Make no mistake. Jesus still wants to know. Why are you, why am I, afraid? Is it just of a broadside? Our age is good at asking Jesus questions. So are we. But not so much when Jesus does the asking. And Jesus wants to know. What are you afraid of? Lord knows, I'm no sailor. Those who are tell me there are distinct worries in the face of a storm. Foremost, the broadside. It's that overwhelming gust that hits you sideways, the length of your boat. It sends you listing to one side. It can fill you up with water. It can either flood or flip you. Either way you're sunk. Jesus wants to ask his disciples. Them. Us. Are you afraid you're sunk? 'Afraid that whatever blows up a storm in your life is gonna flip you over or swamp you under? (Tax time's comin'. It's not goin' well at work or school. You've violated a trust and can see the clouds comin' at the thought of getting caught. The diagnosis is due on Tuesday. You're spouse is comin' home: drinking again, or sober; angry again or in control?) Are you fearful you're about to get flat-out over-powered, as though God were somehow not watching? 'Like Jesus is asleep in the stern of your boat?

We believers with a broadside-fear forget whose boat we're in, and who's in our boat. Waking or sleeping, Jesus in the stern is always more powerful than the power in the storm. You could say he's at the stern for a reason. It's where the rudder is. The steering wheel. The lesson here could easily be: let Jesus take the helm when you're in fear of harm. Let Jesus get your boat pointed in the right direction. Do that and he'll turn you into the wind. You'll have the courage to face the storm head on. You'll still have to ride it out, but at least you won't be overturned. If avoidance is your tack in trouble, this'll help, that won't. If needless confrontation is your style, this will lessen the damage you'll sustain because you leave yourself less exposed to harm. If panic is your problem, you can pass your peril on to Jesus. He will organize your energy to move in a particular direction. The right one.

Let me tell you about a friend; call her Mary. Mary had a husband hooked on pills. It started innocently enough. 'Bad back. Over time he became addicted to the pain medicine. It got worse. Mary had no relatives in Md. Church friends, her only friends. So she didn't want to talk about her problems. 'Too embarrassed. At first she feared what he'd do when he got out of control. He could hit. Later, when he left, she feared he would leave her alone. When he did, she was relieved, but blamed herself. Then she feared he'd leave her broke and uninsured, since she had a disability that left her unemployed with no insurance. The constant here was fear. At first she avoided. Then tried clinging. Then bargaining. Two years' Christian counseling finally brought relief. Mary says, "I never saw Jesus in the boat with me. I just saw the waves all around me. When I let him be my pilot, he pardoned me from fear." Friends, when you fear the broadside storm, look to the Savior at your side. It's not that he's in your boat; it's that you're in his!"

Christ is still asking: is it head or astern winds that scare you half to death? Jesus looks us square in the eye. Not so much in the midst of the gale. There's enough for him to do then. To summon a word. A word as powerful as, "Let there be light," and from the same Spirit/breath. His Word is, "Peace. Be still." But when the stillness comes, then he still wants to know. "Why are you afraid?" Maybe it's not so much the broadside. Maybe it's the headwind. 'The gale that keeps you from moving forward. 'Gets you stuck. 'Muscles against your spiritual or emotional muscle to keep you from heading where you feel called to go. Or it could be the fury of things behind you. The stuff that you can't do-over or get-right once the time is past. The stiff-winded stuff that pushes you ineluctably t'ward the rocks! You can feel the crash acomin'. It's what The Book calls sin. Those boys in the boat, they knew! Headwinds kept them from the safety of the shore. They wanted safety, but could not secure it for themselves. Ahh, then the winds swung 'round as the storm moved over them, and shoved them t'ward the rocks and ruin. When they called to Jesus, he knew just what to do. A word from-him-to-the-storm was enough to take its breath away!

Oh, Jesus, get up today. And speak up. Speak up to all the winds that hold us back and keep us from home. Oh, Jesus, get up today. And speak up. Speak up to all the winds that shove us from our past t'ward futures we wouldn't choose. These scouts today. Some swimmers, some not; some canoe sailors, some not. But you don't need an Aquatics Badge. You needn't be much more than eight to know what it feels like to have something or someone holding you back. You know what it feels like to have parents, maybe, or teachers, or scout leaders tell you, "You can't do that." And you get to fearin' you may never get to where you want/need to go. Scouts know. You don't have to be an adult. We can't take back what we've said or done. Stuff like that can wreck you! Well, Jesus has the power. He can take the wind out of the storm behind us. Just tell him all about it. (We call that confessing.) Then face yourself in the right, not the wrong, direction. (We call that repenting.) Believe in the power of Jesus to get you going safe and right again. (We call that redeeming. And the mast on which Christ sets the sail… we call the cross.)

If you want your merit badge, if you wanna get to shore, you'll need to forsake your fear and find your faith in him. How many times have you heard this story? I've lost count. But it wasn't until recently I noticed this. It's not during the storm that Jesus asks, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" No, it's after! It's after those who love him see what he has done. 'Can do. It's when they begin to ponder just who it is in the boat with them. It's after they begin to fathom just whose boat they're in … that their fear draws Jesus' eye. What are we to make of this? Let me try a line or two. And then, then I encourage you to pray and study on it too. And what it might mean to you. Maybe the fright/fear when a thing first overtakes us is understandable. Even to God in Christ. Maybe it's part of God protecting us by arresting and focusing our full attention on the peril at hand. It's what happens next that counts spiritually. It's whether or not we call to Christ. 'Claim him without reserve as our savior in the face of the storm. It's whether or not we see when it's over. Jesus, only Jesus, has the will, and the power, and the glory, to take the breath away from the storm. We can trust him. And we can trust ourselves to him. And he will stay with us. And ride it out, all the way to the safety of the shore. The real power for our lives is never in the storm outside our boat. ('Never in the broadsides we fear will overturn us, nor in the headwinds that could hold us back, nor in the winds from behind us that want to drive us where we do not want to go.) No, the real power for our lives is in the Savior beside us. All he needs to do is speak a word. And we are at peace. Our spirits can be still.

Jesus wants to know. What are you afraid of? There's nothin' blowin' in on you from any side so strong as the Word he speaks. Confess your fear. It's alright. He'll understand. Let him steer you in the right direction. Repent. Believe, and he will redeem. Trust, by the sign of the cross. And your fear will be turned to awe. And when you ask, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" you'll know. This Jesus is Perfect Love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

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