Sovereign of the Sea

Blog written by Pastor Bill Bierling


Sitting here by the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Town, South Africa, Harriet & I have been 
privileged to be part of the dedication of  Oceans Retreat Center.  The passage of Scripture shared was the story of Jesus stilling the sea in Mark 4: 35-41. Notice that Jesus called the disciples to go to the other side of the sea. Little did anyone realize that for Oceans this would involve a move to South Africa for Tim and Patty-literally across the sea-joining Ray & Kegan at Oceans Retreat Center. Thankfully, just as Jesus was with the disciples sleeping on the boat that day on the Sea of Galilee, He is also with us on whatever journey we may be on- the wonderful human Jesus-who understands exactly what we are experiencing this very moment.  

How we need that Jesus to identify with us in all of our humanness- our struggles, our fears, our loneliness, our disappointments & whatever other storms may arrive. We are so glad for Oceans Ministries & for each of us that we not only have the human Jesus, but also the Divine Jesus with us as well. This is the Jesus of John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word & the Word was with God & the Word was God.” We see this divine Jesus rise up in the storm. 
He speaks, “Quiet! Be Still!”

Then the waters were calm. 

Thank God for the Master of Miracles; the One who is the  Sovereign of the Sea. Incredible! He is the One with us as we move ahead in the future. Let Him still the storms that will come. Let Him invade the darkness with His light & His power. Let the Sovereign of the Sea reign in your lives. May we all in humble wonderment and amazement say, “Who is this that the winds and the ways obey Him?”

Our only response can be, HE IS THE SOVEREIGN OF THE SEA! As Oceans Ministries International steps into uncharted territory of townships, homelessness, loneliness, darkness, hopelessness and fatherlessness, may the human Jesus and the divine Jesus be ever present!

Waves of His Glory

In Africa when you visit a church and you are a pastor many times you will be asked to preach. That happened this past Sunday as we worshiped in the township of Massi a few miles down the road from Oceans Retreat Center. Without much time to prepare I instinctively chose the theme text from Oceans.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.Habakuk 2:14

As I spoke the Holy Spirit impressed on me that these beautiful people gathered in a make shift “church” are each an integral part of “God’s waves of glory!” Together brothers and sisters from Africa joined by a team from Western Michigan united in praise and both were ready and willing to splash the Father’s love where ever He may lead.

One of the waves in the room was Pastor Nevson, who moved into this township over 10 years ago out of obedience to God’s voice. He lives with his wife and 4 young boys in a small wooden shed on a street that never sleeps, surrounded by drinking bars and all sorts of darkness. Yet, daily Pastor Nevson works in the schools and walks through the township being the visible message of Jesus to people that are thirsty for hope.

As I opened God’s Word, it made me smile as glanced at all the familiar faces, waves represented from the states. Truly an amazing group, many from Haven church in Zeeland, who came out to help with a building project and be a part of the Dedication Service for Ocean’s Retreat Center. One of those waves was Jim. Jim would wake up early, brew coffee for the team, and sit in the front room. As he enjoyed the view he noticed two homeless men sitting on a bench right outside of the retreat center and one day he decided to join his friends on the bench, listened to their stories and splashed on them heaven’s love.

I believe with all my heart a tidal wave of the Father’s love is beginning to form in our world. An enormous swell is taking form from places like Massi township in South Africa, as well as in Zeeland, Michigan. Ordinary folks who have experienced extraordinary love from the Father’s face will flood the nations with the reflection of His transforming glory.

And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and get a glimpse of all that we have heard and seen during our time in South Africa. I pray that you will be caught up in the WAVE of the Father’s LOVE for you and let His Spirit carry you along SPLASHING His glory wherever He brings you!

The Higher you are the Smaller Things Get!

City of Fishhoek, SA

We hiked up a mountain near Oceans Retreat Center the other week and had a prayer time with some dear friends. The day was radiant and the prayers refreshed my thirsty soul. Down below was a huge “To do list” that seemed daunting and kept my mind spinning faster than I liked. But as we looked over the glory of God’s creation and focused on His majestic presence life was once again reordered in the right direction. What seemed so urgent and weighty an hour earlier vanished as our hearts touched the heavenly realm and grace was released. After our climb that day the Spirit prompted these words to my mind, The higher you are the smaller things get.”

A few days after our hike we met with what I would call a prophetical leader. Johann Kikillus runs Soteria Ministries in nearby Ocean View township. Johann fights tirelessly for those who have no voice in a place infested with gangs, addictions and child abuse, a literal war zone. Johann shared with us how our area has seen a convergence of witches, shaman’s and all types of spiritualists attracted to spiritual forces flowing through the valley. This group prays and practices their rituals in the mountains above us seeking to bring in the dominion of darkness. When we asked Johann what his greatest need was, he quickly responded, “prayer!” At the end of our time we followed up with his request for prayer. We drove away speechless. Quite overwhelmed by what we had heard and seen in the township, but again the Spirit brought back the phrase “The higher you are the smaller things get.”

The phrase above triggered these powerful Scriptural truths:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3.

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6.

Since you and I are in Christ Jesus we have been given every resource of heaven to war with as we are seated with Christ and our Father as His beloved children. What helps ignite that truth? To live in a constant spirit of “Praise” to the Father and Son for the victory won in Christ Jesus. As we worshiped and prayed that day on the mountain top the battle below truly seemed to get smaller and the glory of God evaporated the lies and wicked schemes of the enemy below. I believe the Spirit was giving us a strategy of how He wants us to live in our new home, “The higher you are the smaller things get!”

I pray as you and I face our battles we would hear the Spirit call to live out of the heavenly realms where we are seated with Christ and our loving Abba. As we make Praise & Pray our priority, heavens Perfect Peace will flood our souls with a blessed victory! (Isa. 26:3)

Our Praise Team: Ray Haakonsen, Carmen & Nick Carlavato, & Patty

“I’m Just the Driver!”

Kegan and the boys from Grand Rapids Christian High School

Blog written by Kegan Haakonsen, manager of Oceans Retreat Center.

In my role as driver for a high school group from Grand Rapids, I recently had the privilege of going back to Beautiful Gate, Lesotho, after a 10 year absence. At one time just one room with 7 babies, a simple “YES!” to God’s request by my mom and dad all those years ago turned a desperate situation into this beautiful, peaceful and welcoming Centre. Seeing the progress, the amount of new buildings and hearing that over 500 babies have been influenced made my heart swell with pride! Not to mention the amount of lives touched by volunteers, teams and staff that have passed through these beautiful gates!  

While sitting in the gazebo overlooking this beautiful place, I asked God what I could do to make a difference while I’m here. “Just be the driver” came the reply. Not really the answer I was hoping for! Ok God, what does that mean!? “Just be who you are” was the response.

As “just the driver” I had no idea how I was going to fit in with the tight-knit team of teenagers and leaders. It started slowly with conversations over meals, evening drives to the local supermarket for late night snacks and trips to the local souvenir shop. “Driver” soon became “friend” and the kids really got to see “just who I am” over some overly competitive ping pong games! By just being myself, relationships deepened and I found myself sharing my story and enjoying incredible fellowship with these teens. 

Church that Sunday moved me deeply. It moved everyone with a spirit-filled message from Tim Spykstra and the greatest praise and worship I have experienced in a long, long time. God once again spoke to me and gave me a fresh renewing of His love and peace in my life.

Dropping the team off at the airport was difficult. Good byes were harder than I expected. Some of the guys managed a good bear hug but no words were spoken. Setting off from the airport, this time for the long drive home on my own, I felt God’s voice again, “Good job on being YOU! You spoke honestly, you shared the good, the bad and the ugly from your life. You listened, you shared your faith, you encouraged them to love Me with all they’ve got! And you thought you were Just the Driver!”

Many times we wait. We wait for better timing, more understanding, a better position. We do not feel qualified enough. We have self doubt. We think we need to be better people first… Let me assure you that God wants you to be you. He will do the rest. So while I felt like I was “just the driver” I was used by God for so much more than that. I felt so alive in those moments and looking back now, I get excited to see that I am more than enough. I am someone. A very ordinary someone being used by an extraordinary God! All you have to do is say,
 “Yes, here I am, use me.”

“His Grace Abounds in Deepest Waters”

I was already having a difficult time holding back my tears as I prepared my heart and mind to preach at the Christian Revival Church in Lesotho, Africa. It was our first time back to CRC since Pastor David was killed a few months earlier and a million memories were flashing through my mind as Patty and I sat by his wife Lizzy. Then the dam broke as the praise team sang “Oceans.” The lyrics were just as overwhelming and emotional as they were on that Father’s Day 51/2 years ago. In 2014 I shared with the CRC about stepping out of the boat to begin the nonprofit Oceans Ministries. I remember it as clear as day, for as I finished preaching Pastor David requested that the praise team sing “Oceans.” Yes, that moment will be forever imprinted on my mind as Abba spoke loud and clear, “I’m with you in the middle of the ocean!”

These lyrics again busted through my brain into the depth of my soul as I knew the Father was reminding me of His past faithfulness and present presence to carry Oceans forward into a new seasons in Southern Africa:

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

As I shouted out those lyrics waves of God’s grace flooded me with perfect peace as I reflected on all Abba has done in the past 5 plus years. Truly His Sovereign hand has lifted Oceans up and carried us to places we could have never dreamed of. Even when my feet have failed and fear surrounded me His unfailing love has never let go. His grace shows up when we are in the deepest part of the ocean and all we have to hold onto are His promises. The CRC church, Lizzy and her two boys had just been through a horrific storm and yet waves of grace flooded the church. In fact, as we worshiped, our whole team was carried by those waves deeper into the presence of God’s amazing love. Many of the young people with us testified that they had never experienced anything like it and I doubt they will never forget it.

Could it be that the place where we are to dwell is the place where our feet cannot touch? Where our hope is anchored tightly to Jesus Christ who reigns as the sovereign King in the heavenly realms (Hebrews 6:19)? Our Good Father reminded me on that Sunday in Lesotho that the farther away I get from the “safety” of the shore the greater His grace abounds. Or as Pastor David’s oldest son said to me, “the world has nothing that I need.” The death of his father could have made him bitter or caused him to turn away from his faith, but instead he focused his eyes on his heavenly Father and asked for grace to heal his heart and give him hope for the future.

As you begin 2020 let Jesus take you out into the ocean where you can’t touch and you will find that He is with you in miraculous ways in the middle of the ocean, a place where His grace abounds!

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isa. 41:10).

Clink on this link to hear the song live………