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Category: Mark

The safest place in a storm

On my office wall hangs a vivid photograph entitled, “Phares dans la Tempete, La Jument.[1]” It shows a lighthouse keeper at La Jument reef, standing in the door of his lighthouse just as a towering wave nearly engulfs the structure from behind.

Original photo by Jean Guichard,

As retold later in Celtic Countries magazine,[2] the story of the shot goes as follows.

On December 21, 1989, a powerful storm smashed into the area, hitting the lighthouse with gale force winds and with waves reaching up to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) high. During the night, the massive waves crashed through the lighthouse’s lower windows, flooding its living quarters and forcing the keeper to escape to the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse.

The next morning, despite dangerous flying conditions, a photographer named Jean Guichard hired a helicopter so he could photograph the dramatic storm from the air. The lighthouse keeper, Théodore Malgorn, heard the approaching helicopter and thought it was his rescuers. So he opened the door and stepped outside.

That was the moment the giant wave slammed into the lighthouse.

That was the moment Guichard took the shot.

Fortunately, the keeper was able to slip inside and shut the door, just before it was completely covered.

Original Photo by Jean Guichard,

This famous picture of safety in the storm was given to me by my wife, shortly after life swept me into chaos. As I endured the greatest turmoil of my life, I took solace in looking at it, wondering what the lighthouse keeper felt that night. Did he shake with fear as the wind and waves whipped into a deadly frenzy, crashing again and again into his tiny stone tower? Did his heart pound in his chest as freezing water shattered his windows and poured into his home? Did he pray to God for survival as he fled to the lantern room—the very last refuge he had?

That night in the lighthouse, the keeper must have felt very unsure of his own safety. Yet in the whole vast ocean, the lighthouse was the safest place of all.

Like the lighthouse keeper, Jesus once faced a violent storm. After a day of ministry beside the Sea of Galilee, he and his disciples set out by boat to cross to the other side. But according to Mark 4:37-38:

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’”

Note the sequence of the disciples’ reactions. Like most of us, first they panic; only later do they ask the God of the universe for help.

But Jesus does not punish them for this lapse by withholding that help; instead he immediately commands the elements to “Be still!”—and they obey. Only then does he turn to his disciples and ask, “’Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” (v. 39-40).

The truth is, it is one thing to trust God when things go well. But it is another to trust him from the center of the storm, when our world is upended.

And our world is upended now. Every day during this surreal COVID-19 pandemic, we get hit by wave after wave as we lose travel autonomy, small businesses, and loved ones. Our lives will be changed for months, if not forever.

Original Photo by Jean Guichard,

I have not yet been touched directly by the virus, nor by the escalating death rates, so I have not felt explicit fear—but I do feel unsettled and anxious in this storm of uncertainty, as I’m sure the lighthouse keeper did at La Jument.

When life is like this, we must take refuge in our Creator, who is far bigger than any virus, news reports, or ventilator shortages.

No matter what happens—even if we experience sickness or death—we are not spiraling helplessly through stormy seas. Instead, we are secure in our lighthouse as the storm rages around us. We are safe in the arms of Christ.

By Falken – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

[1] This French phrase means “Lighthouse in the tempest [at] La Jument.” La Jument (“the mare”) is a treacherous reef near the isle of Ushant in the Iroise Sea, off the northwest coast of France.

[2] Celtic Countries magazine, January 18, 2011,

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Imago dei … even when I don’t want to

Jesus said the first and most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30) – and coming in at second is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

The first one is pretty easy—at least, it is pretty easy to make an appearance of loving God. Whether it is real or not, only God knows.

The second commandment, however, is a little harder to fake. Merely saying I love my neighbor doesn’t mean much; I have to live it out. Jesus didn’t just say “I love you” to humanity; he put himself on a cross to show it.


Last weekend, my dodge of this second commandment was painfully exposed. My church participates in “Love Portland” – a Saturday in August when we prepare local schools for the students’ return. The work involves mostly simple tasks like trimming, weeding, and painting, which these under-resourced schools don’t have the staffing or funding to do; If we don’t do it, the campuses simply remain untrimmed, unweeded, unpainted.

The purpose of this event is put hands and feet to loving our neighbors, expecting nothing in return. The underlying desire of the organizers and participants is give a gift of service to our community.

In my case, however, my underlying desire was to avoid giving that gift. I had my reasons, some of them legitimate. First, I work graveyard on weekends, and big events like this tend to get me stirred up so that I have a hard time sleeping to prepare for work. Second, the temperature was supposed to hover in the upper 90s that day, and I turn into a real crab-bucket at anything over 80. Third, the wind was full of smoke from raging forest fires some miles away, and the news kept warning everyone to stay inside and avoid breathing it. Fourth, I have a bad back, so I always try to avoid activities that might tweak it.

Unfortunately, beneath all of those reasons—or excuses—for not loving my neighbor hid the truth: I just didn’t want to.

Once again, Jesus’ command to “love my neighbor” came down to an ultimate cage-match between my spirit and my flesh (sin nature). I didn’t want to be inconvenienced. I didn’t want to leave my comfort zone. I didn’t want to share another’s burden. To which Jesus responds: “Love your neighbor.” And then, as if to seal the deal, he adds: “as yourself.”

Jesus’ words launch an inescapable circle of reasoning inside my head. I do love God, I insist. Then show it, he says. How? I hedge. Well, he repeats, by loving others exactly the same way that you love yourself.

Every day, I expend an ocean of effort to get my own needs met, look out for myself in the name of self-preservation, and pump up my Facebook profile to impress everyone else. And that ocean is the amount of love I am called to pour out on others.

Wynants_Jan-ZZZ-Parable_of_the_Good_SamaritanIn other words, as much as I don’t want to be inconvenienced—that is how much I am to love my neighbor. As much as I don’t want to leave my comfort zone—that is how much I am to serve others. As much as I don’t want to share another’s burden—that is how much I am to come alongside the needs of my community.

Just because God—who I say I love—commands it. And loving God is loving my neighbor.

Suddenly, as all my selfish excuses fall flat, these two commands combine to trigger another spirit-versus-flesh battle within. I think Jesus intends it to be that way. These are not commands with which to impress others; they are internal. They create a struggle between the self-centered desires of my flesh and the God-centered desires of my spirit.

This struggle between my flesh and my spirit went on for an entire week before the service day. But two things helped my spirit win out.

Self-awareness. We must be aware that we consist of flesh and spirit. After we put our trust in God, our spirit desires to please him, but our flesh still wants to please itself. So ignoring our flesh, and pretending it isn’t there, gives it the advantage of stealth: we never see it coming. Instead of engaging us in a full-frontal assault, it can sidle up next to us and woo us with sly arguments. I believe this lack of self-awareness is how I can rationalize away bad choices and even sin.
Last Saturday, I was completely aware of the source of my resistance. I knew full well that it was my flesh which was copping the attitude. And the Holy Spirit used this awareness to show me just how self-centered I was being.

Accountability. In my case, accountability came through my wife. She encouraged me to join her in serving the schools, but she also allowed me to talk through my objections, helping me get to the bottom of my resistance. She even gave me the freedom to back out. All of this processing helped turn my heart away from selfishness and toward loving my neighbor.

It’s no secret that Jesus called his followers to be in community with one another. We need close friends who will challenge us to fight against our own flesh, give us the freedom to reach our own conclusions, and pick us up during those times when our flesh wins the day.

Fortunately, on that hot, smoky Saturday last week, my spirit won out: I did participate in the event. My flesh kept screaming its displeasure even as I walked into the school; but my spirit fought back and did what was right.

But how about the next time I am confronted with the opportunity to carry out the second greatest commandment? Will my flesh gain the upper hand or will my spirit win? The battle between flesh and spirit will continue as long as I live. Starving the flesh and feeding the spirit is an ongoing process. I will take the wins whenever I can get them.

For now, I will be grateful that this time, Jesus helped me choose to love my neighbor. In his name.

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Asleep in the boat, part 2: The “reverse ABCs” of anxiety

[This post is continued from “Asleep in the boat, part 1: When God is the cause of anxiety.”]

As I studied the story of Jesus sleeping peacefully in a storm-tossed boat (Mark 4:35-41), I realized how much I want to experience that same peace.
Landscape%20-%20Painting%20-%20Seascape%20-%20Storm%20over%20Black%20SeaI don’t know exactly how to develop it, but I do know I’m sick of being worried and anxious. I want to kick the worry habit, but wanting and doing are two different things. And even scriptures urging us not to worry (Matthew 6:25-27, Philippians 4:6-7), which should soothe me, can increase anxiety because they create a new problem: a load of guilt for being unable to obey them.

Maybe you too have experienced this cycle. I mean, there are plenty of things to worry about, many of them far beyond our control. And for true anxiety addicts like me, even when life is good we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So my prayer is that I can honestly surrender my anxieties to Jesus and, in my imperfect way, claim the true peace of Christ.

Toward that end, I’ve been trying to practice three steps I call the “reverse ABCs of anxiety”: Cry out; Be thankful; Ask for help.

Here’s what I mean…

  1. Cry out to God. First, I’ve discovered that willpower can’t stop anxiety, because willing myself to stop my worrying only increases my focus on it. (For example, try not thinking of the color red. Go!) Instead, the key is to pour out all my anxieties to God: my career (or lack thereof); political issues; global injustices; fragmentation in the body of Christ; my book sales and readers’ responses; ideas for future books and blogs; and all the rest. Confession is the beginning of repentance and healing, so I bare all my worries to God and nail them to the cross.
  2. Be thankful. Following a sermon suggestion, my wife and I started listing five things each day for which we are thankful. My wife can hardly stop at five, but I can hardly even start because doing it “on purpose” every day feels like a superficial routine to me. Yet through this practice, I’m learning that thankfulness is not based on emotion; it is based on reality – the reality that God is good and trustworthy. No matter how I feel, God is still God. So I am learning to intentionally enter a state of thanksgiving and praise regardless of my feelings. Being anxious focuses on the future – but being thankful acknowledges God’s goodness in the present.
  3. Ask for help to do small things. The disciples could not calm the furious winds and waves – but there was one small thing they could do: they could wake up Jesus in the boat. Like them, I can’t calm my overwhelming anxiety – but I can at least wake up Jesus. I can ask him to help me think of a new blog idea, write for an hour without distraction, or post a quote on social media. After completing that task, I can ask him to help me complete another. Trusting God becomes easier when I focus on the next small thing before me. Focusing on big issues beyond my control only makes me more anxious.

Blog-Anxiety2These steps are something I need to do every day, because giving our cares and concerns to God is not a simple one-time prayer but an ongoing process that continues throughout our lives. So every day, we cry out to God and lay our anxieties before him. Every day, we acknowledge his goodness by giving thanks even when we don’t feel like it. Every day, we ask for his help to complete the next small thing in front of us. And every day, we repeat the process again.

I won’t pretend these steps are easy or that I have mastered them. I still stumble and feel overwhelmed by anxiety, just as the disciples felt overwhelmed by the waves. And that kind of overwhelming anxiety tends to create more.

But I have grace on my side—the grace of Jesus, fast asleep on a cushion (Mark 4:38a). When he asked his disciples why they had so little faith, I don’t think he was chiding them. Instead, I think he was challenging them. He wanted all of his followers to trust God so deeply that we, like him, can sleep through a storm.

The storms will come—but God’s peace will guide us through.

And as I learn to practice the steps above, I’ll let you know how it goes.

You can read more about wrestling with God and his grace in my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. For details, see my book page.

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Asleep in the boat, part 1: When God is the cause of anxiety

What if God, who comforts my anxiety, is also the cause of it? I don’t want to feel broadsided by him again…

As I sat down to write about anxiety, almost immediately I began to experience it. I couldn’t think how to approach the subject, so I started worrying. My struggle led to mental paralysis, which led to more anxiety. The harder I struggled, the darker things looked. I froze (“Come on, brain!”). I spiraled (“This blog is going down the crapper”). I globalized (“The universe sucks!”).

Finally I saw the irony – I was anxious about writing on anxiety! – and I had to laugh.

Good thing I hadn’t planned to write on serial killing.

stormy-oceanThe problem of anxiety reminds me of a story in Mark 4. Jesus, sleeping soundly in a boat almost overwhelmed by high waves (Mark 4:37-38a) is accused of indifference by his terrified disciples: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38b). But Jesus simply quiets the storm and asks: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 39-40)

Traditionally, the point usually taken from this story is that the disciples shouldn’t have worried because Jesus was right there in the boat with them, and was (presumably) on their side. As Paul writes later in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, then who can be against us?”

However, I’m an anxious cynic. If I’d been there, I’d be thinking: Yeah, Jesus, but you walk on water – even if the boat sinks, you can just saunter safely to shore!

So apparently I can trust him for salvation, but not for daily care and protection.

How nuts is that?

Well, maybe it’s not as nuts as it sounds – because despite Paul’s reassurance, I know from experience that even though God is for us, sometimes he still allows us to go through very hard things.

For example, the stunted twelve-year-old boy inside me wants to know, Why did God let my parents divorce? Later, the wounded teenager inside demands, Why did God let me suffer from so much rage on the inside, and rejection on the outside? The young adult in me asks, Why did God let me stumble from one low-paying job to another, unable to establish a career? Finally, the academic washout in me asks, Why did God lead me into a doctoral program and then let it blow up in my face?

That last sucker-punch was the worst of all. As soon as the shock wore off, anxiety was the first emotion I felt. I started worrying like crazy about how I could ever have a future again. And that question has yet to be fully answered.

That’s when it really hit me: What if God, my comforter in anxiety, is also the cause of it? What if I’m anxious because part of me still feels he hasn’t always “come through” (whatever that means) in the past, and fears he won’t always in the future?

Blog-Anxiety1The truth is, I don’t want to be broadsided again. I don’t want to be let down anymore. And sometimes, putting our trust in God does feel risky like that.

So what about those times when we actually don’t trust God? Does our distrust contradict the truth of the freedom and grace we have in Christ?

Well, maybe not. Because on a deeper level, the only way to reflect his freedom and grace is through our weaknesses. In fact, the longer I think about it, the more I do believe the traditional point of the story in Mark 4: If Jesus is right here with me, sleeping peacefully through the storm, then maybe even I, weak and anxious as I am, can learn from him how to have peace too.

[Continued in Asleep in the Boat, Part 2: The Reverse ABCs of Anxiety

You can read more about wrestling with God and his grace in my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. For details, see my book page.

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