by Kris Coffin Stevenson | 17 June 2020 |
My bookcase is attached to the wall with an earthquake strap. I can see the strap poking up above the top of the bookcase. Every time I look at the bookcase, I remind myself to find a decorative item to put on the top to hide the strap. But the decorative item needs to be light and unbreakable because it’s on the top of a bookcase and could topple off in an earthquake. Before I can find something suitable, I get distracted, so the next time I look at the bookcase, I’m irritated by the earthquake strap. And round it goes.
One day I realized that I was more focused on the irritating strap than on all the beautiful remembrances and books filled with possibilities that are on the shelves. There’s the personalized inlaid wooden bookend made by my grandfather, an assortment of vases from my mother, an unusual fossilized fish inherited from my father’s collection, photographs of my in-laws, trinkets and treasures from missionary aunts and uncles, books gifted by my children. A lifetime of images and memories are contained within this bookcase, handmade by my husband 33 years ago. And instead of soaking in the history and ancestry, I’m looking at the earthquake strap and the earthquake putty that sticks these treasures to the shelves.
It seems my eyes often focus on the wrong things in life. I look at what I don’t have, not at what I do have. The demoralizing distractions of this world’s economy grab ahold of my attention when I should be zeroing in on the love, salvation, and generosity of my Father God.
As Adventists, we’ve spent most of our denominational lives immersed in the study of the end times. We have Revelation seminars, Bible studies, charts, edible plant classes, sermon series, timelines, guides for leaving the cities, vegan cooking classes to prepare our bodies, and Ellen White compilations. Now that we’re living in cataclysmic times, how is all of that helping? I’m not saying that we’re in the last days right now, only the Father knows for sure. But I do know that all the focus on end time chronological events, memorizing the seven last plagues, and arguing over the timeline of the 2300 days doesn’t do diddly-squat to prepare me to trust in God. Those arguments don’t help my anxiety when Walmart sends me home because of the curfew before I can buy my organic tofu.
Did my high school Bible classes on the last days or the Senior Survival where everyone read The Great Controversy’s end chapters prepare me to understand God’s character in relationship to justice issues? Did the final test make me more aware of the Holy Spirit’s quiet directions as I make life-altering choices on how to live right now in tumultuous times? Did I participate in encouraging my friends, family, and students to keep their eyes on Jesus, or did I just uphold the important regulations of our church culture? Where has my focus been? Where is it now?
Rev 14:6-12 details the three angels’ messages, the core of which we have been taught is our special prophetic message to the world. But we focus on talking wide-eyed about the mark of the beast and sussing out who’s part of Babylon and forget that the message starts by asking us to “Fear God, and give him glory…worship him who made the heaven and earth.” The call of the first angel is to pay attention to God and praise and worship him as we follow what He is doing.
Let me tell you about Peter. He and his friends got into a do-or-die situation. Their boat was about to capsize in a fearsome storm, and they were fighting for their lives. And in the midst of this tempest, a ghost walks by. Their reaction? They scream like little children. You think coronavirus is bad? Try being on the verge of capsizing in a horrific storm when a ghost drifts by. So, as we know from the story, it wasn’t a ghost but actually Jesus walking on the whitecaps, which the disciples realized after they’d shut their screaming mouths and wiped the water out of their eyes. Now, I don’t think Jesus was trying to act like a ghost just to get His disciples’ blood pressure up. I think that seeing Him walking across the water towards them in the middle of a storm was so outside any human concept that the disciples identified it as an evil supernatural event.
Peter, the spokesman for the group, finally calls out to the Lord. Jesus’ immediate response is to identify Himself and tell them not to be afraid. Jesus often had to reassure people when He interacted with them. Sort of like, “Hi, I’m Jesus. Don’t be afraid.” So He quickly calms His disciples’ fears. When you or my next-door neighbor tells me not to be afraid, it’s a comforting statement. But when Jesus the Messiah, creator of the breeze and breakers says, “Don’t be afraid,” that’s some serious power backing up that statement. And so Peter, always up for an adventure, asks if he can come wave running as well.
We like to make fun of Peter sometimes because he does a lot of talking in the gospels, sometimes foolish talk. But it took a huge amount of courage to get out of that boat which represented his salvation at the moment. He was willing to let go of the human physical, rational thing that he thought could protect him and instead let his love and trust for his Friend lead him out into the gale, away from his preconceived ideas of what could save him.
It was going really well, a story for the grandkids, when something happened and Peter got distracted. Some have suggested he looked back at his friends to show off. I rather think that a big wave slapped him on the side of his head and the wind blew his robe over his eyes. Suddenly, his connection was broken and all his fear came rushing back in. He lost sight of his security and instead saw the waves towering over his head and felt his sandals slipping under the surf. But he knew where his true salvation was. “Lord, save me!” he cried. And just like that, Jesus had ahold of his hand. The Lord was never out of arm’s reach. “Why did you doubt?” He gently reminded Peter and the other eleven. He’s got this. He’s got them all.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you; don’t be distressed, for I am your God. I give you strength, I give you help, I support you with my victorious right hand.
He’s the Lord of the seas: You rule the oceans. You subdue their storm-tossed waves.
He’s the Ruler of the peoples: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
He’s the Master of death, He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.
Now, to the one who can keep you from falling
and set you without defect and full of joy
in the presence of his Sh’khinah —
to God alone, our Deliverer,
through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord —
be glory, majesty, power and authority
before all time, now and forever.
(From Psalm 46:10; 89:9; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 14; Jude 24,25; Revelation 21:4)
So back to COVID. And a possible war with China. And locusts eating through Africa and India. Cicadas emerging on the East Coast. An election threatening to divide your community, church, and home. Looting and torching down the street. People of color terrified of those who’ve sworn to protect them. Church communities separated by sickness. Conspiracy theories abounding on every side. Health issues mounting. An earthquake this week shaking my bookcase.
Put down your charts and your timelines. Change the channel from riots and viruses. Look away from the earthquake preparations. Don’t stand mouth agape, transfixed by the sight of the turbulent seas towering over you. Zoom in. Zoom past the towering breakers of fear, doubt, violence, sickness. Focus tight on the face of Christ, His reaching hand. Are you looking Jesus in the eye, watching His movements, tracking His words?
It doesn’t matter if the noise grows louder, the clamor increases, chaos reigns, fear multiplies, the waves grow higher, the spray whips into your eyes. You have a message of hope to declare in the midst of the tumult. Step out of what you perceive to be your safety and zero in on the Lord of Salvation. Make a choice. Get out of the boat and identify with the God who walks on water. He’s never out of arm’s reach. He’s reminding you not to be afraid and that there’s no need to doubt. He’s the God of creation who can command the waves to be still. He’s got you.
Kris Coffin Stevenson is an author, teacher, editor, and scopist. She loves living her eternal life starting now. She and her husband reside in Santa Clarita, California. You can follow her writing at bthelove.net or bthelove on Facebook.