Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2019

This Hope

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

On Sunday Ruth was asked to deliver the sermon at the historic First Baptist Church in downtown Port Hope. Although she spoke from an outline, I asked her if she could write it up to share with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

….we rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us…
(Romans 5:3-5)

There’s a lot of encouragement in these words. The writer is telling us our own story, that he gets it; life has problems, disappointments, difficulties. But we choose to continue, to keep trying, to not give up. We build character – purified strength, a clearer understanding of who we are – and we hope. We look forward to better days, to things becoming easier.

Struggle, perseverance, greater strength, hope.

But doesn’t it seem a bit the wrong way ’round? Doesn’t it seem that hope should be listed near the beginning? Struggle, hope, perseverance, strength.

After all, if we have no hope to begin with, why persevere? What’s the point of strength if there’s no hope in the first place?

Maybe we need to understand — What is hope?

We’re all children of our culture. Our worldview is influenced by what we see and hear, the conversations we have, the values we’re taught by school and friends. So what does our culture say about hope?

The obvious place to start is with a dictionary definition – “To desire with anticipation. To want something to be, or to be true.” To desire. To want.

I hope I get a new phone for Christmas. I hope I win the lottery. I hope there are no essay questions on the exam. I hope she likes me. I want this to be. I want this to be true.

Our culture says that hope expresses itself in our lives in different ways:

Hope is a fantasy:

In The Selfish Gene, author Richard Dawkins argues that only purpose that exists in the universe is the passing on of genetic material. Evolutionary biology and psychology define our entire human reality. Our future, our destiny as a race, our purpose, our goal and our hope is continued genetic reproduction.
As a result, anyone who asks the question, “Why?” – Why are there things in the world like suffering, love, and beauty – is a delusional fool.

Hope is the thing with feathers:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me

~Emily Dickinson

The poet paints a picture of hope as something living in the human heart and part of human nature, hardwired and built in. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. A mysterious, wordless feeling that, although things are cold and strange, if we just trust the universe it will unfold as it should and everything will be okay.

Hope floats:

The title of this movie is taken from words spoken by one of the characters;

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

We see hope as something that comes from beyond ourselves, an impersonal, outside force that we find on the surface of all that’s uncertain, difficult and chaotic. It floats along beside us downstream, helping keep our heads above water. A sort of cosmic pool noodle.

But if hope is just part of human nature, if it’s just the universe holding our hand, or if it is just a delusion – doesn’t it make sense for it to be there from the start, giving us a reason to endure?

My culture’s understanding of hope is not helping.

*******

Paul, who wrote the verse we’re looking at, wrote a lot of the New Testament in the form of letters to different people and groups of people. He taught and encouraged the very first followers of Jesus who found themselves figuring out what this was going to look like and how we should live.

Paul had a lot to say about a lot of things. The language he said these things in was Greek. Paul was from a town called Tarsus and Greek would have been his first language. It was also at that time a language that many nations had in common, sort of like English is now.

To understand why Paul wrote what he wrote, it helps to look back at the original language; what did that word mean to those people at that time? If they looked at a dictionary, what would it say?

When we look at the word that’s translated into the English word “hope”, their dictionary would not have said “optimism” – it would have said “expectation.” Not “desire” – but, “confidence.”

Not “I hope I win the lottery”, but rather “I hope spring will come soon.” We know it will. It can’t not. We have that confident expectation.

So when he says “endure, build character, find hope” he’s not telling us to work hard and become a better person so we can feel better about how things will turn out. He’s not saying try hard enough, become good enough, feel better.

He is saying that we’re on a path towards something in which we can be confident; on a path toward an ending that we can trust.

So when he writes:

“All creation eagerly waits with anticipation… in the hope that creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20) he’s saying that we have a confident expectation that this wounded, broken world will be made right.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25) he means that however long it takes, we can be patient, holding to our confident expectation.

“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope…through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4) is stating that we’ve been given a written record of how God has worked through history, so we can look forward with confident expectation to what He’ll do next.

***

“This hope will not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5)

We watch the news and see governments who should make things better often make things worse.

Our heroes and public figures who we expect to set an example often make things worse.

Industry and employers we rely on to lay a foundation often yank that foundation out from under us.

The doctor gives us bad news.

And our optimism takes a hit.

Our culture says that hope is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of something we long for. A feeling that something is wrong in the world and ought to be made right. So we hope.

• We want our relationships to be made right.
• We want the government to make good and just laws.
• We want medical science to find answers for things that are scary and painful.
• We want technology to find solutions and to correct the damage done.
• We want employers to open doors, to meet our needs and make lives more secure.

How can we have confident expectation in a world where people and institutions let us down?

We can’t.

***

So what is this hope that will not disappoint us?

One of the people to whom Paul wrote letters was named Timothy. His first letter to Timothy begins with this:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

Christ Jesus, our hope.

When Paul writes about hope, he’s not writing about a feeling that everything will be ok, or about good karma, or the potential of humanity to make the world a wonderful place.

He’s writing about one person.

And NO, this Hope is not a delusional fantasy. This Hope is the ultimate reality who painted his self portrait when he created us, who came to earth in our skin with a face to see and a voice to hear, who left footprints in the dirt, who left behind the recorded life of a human being.

And YES, this Hope does live in our hearts, bringing us comfort – but even more! He doesn’t sing a wordless tune, asking nothing from us. He sang the Psalms with His people, He spoke, He taught, He called people by name, and gives us a chance to understand the big picture and a chance to work alongside Him to bring it to life.

And YES, this Hope does comes alongside, keeping our heads up, carrying us over chaos and darkness
— but even more! He didn’t just float downstream on the surface of the chaos and darkness, he stepped out onto the surface of the chaos and darkness, he turned the storm into a sidewalk to come meet us to where we are in our hard times, to be the strength that we need to persevere, to teach us how to grow and become stronger and purified in Him, and in our knowledge of who we are in Him.

And this knowledge turns our focus – not to the hard times, not to the hard work, not to the pain of being purified and strengthened – but to the One who is our confident expectation.

And this Hope will not disappoint us.

Another person who wrote a lot of the New Testament was John. John had an experience that he tried to describe for us – what he saw of the big picture.

This is our confident expectation:

We will see a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and earth will have passed away, and there will no longer be any storm-tossed, chaotic sea. We will see the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned in strength and purity like a bride.

We will hear a loud voice from the throne calling out, “Look! God’s home is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them.

God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Death will be gone.

Grief, crying and pain will be gone because creation will have been set free from the bondage of corruption.

And the One sitting on the throne will say, “Look! I am making everything new!”

The one sitting on the throne.

This is Christ Jesus. Our Hope.

January 1, 2019

The Bible Verse of the Year for 2018

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor, friend, and — compared with everyone else I interact with online — we’re practically next door neighbors. His writings appear every Thursday at our sister blog, Christianity 201, but this seemed like a great choice to start the new year. I figured he gave us permission for one part of our blogging network, so that included Thinking Out Loud as well, right? His writing appears at clarkedixon.wordpress.com or if you prefer, you can read his writing at C201.

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Scripture references are taken from the NLT

December 14, 2018

Strasbourg: From Someone Who Lives An Hour Away

We’ve linked to or reposted material from Lorne Anderson’s blog Random Thoughts from Lorne several times over the past few years. Lorne is a friend, so I get to ask permission after the fact. Montreal born, raised in Ottawa; Lorne has also lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Liberia, West Africa. Our interest today is because he and his wife are currently living in Germany, not far at all from Tuesday night’s attack just over the border in Strasbourg, France. When I read his article this morning, even though we covered this yesterday, I thought it was worth returning to the topic for one more day. The title below is a link to read it at source.

Terror Too Close To Home

This was as close as media could get on Tuesday night. The sign in English would possibly be something like, ‘Strasbourg: Your Christmas Capital.’ (Photo credit FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

by Lorne Anderson

When they are far away, they are just news items we may or may not pay attention to. It is different when they happen in your neighborhood.

Throughout the day Wednesday, people in Canada were forwarding me news stories about the terror attack at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. It is only an hour’s drive from our home in Sulzburg; it is conceivably a place we might visit. Indeed, I was in the city on business in October.

News of the attack brought a jumble of thoughts to my mind. As a journalist I was bemused by the coverage I read that described the suspect as having been radicalized in prison. It was supposedly a religious radicalism, though the particular religion wasn’t mentioned.

I get that. The media don’t want to imply that all followers of a certain religion are dangerous, so they omit the name. It was obvious anyway, given that the attacker, since killed by police, was allegedly shouting in Arabic.

I didn’t fully realize the effect locally until my wife mentioned she passed through two police checkpoints Wednesday on her drive home from a neighbouring town. It was thought the suspect may have crossed from France into Germany.

If the intention of terrorist attacks is to stop people from gathering, they are pretty much a failure. There was a deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin two years ago, but that doesn’t stop people from attending them today. I think most of us figure the odds are that there won’t be an attack while we are there.

I don’t know if there is much thought to security at these things, though from the news reports there was a lot of police presence in Strasbourg. Certainly there is none at the small-town markets in my area.

Even the bigger markets I have attended haven’t had much visible security. I don’t recall seeing police last year in Colmar, France or Vienna, Austria, this year. I did see police in Freiburg last month, but they weren’t at the Christmas market itself, rather keeping an eye on a street demonstration a block away. There have been lots of people at every market I attend – and I don’t expect that to change.

My first thoughts though upon hearing news of the attack was not about market crowds but of individuals, people I know here and how they would feel upon hearing the news. Becasue I think the intention of many terrorists, though they may not be able to articulate it, is not to strike fear into the general populace, but to sow a generalized fear of Muslims

In Europe, certainly here in Germany, it seems to me most of Muslims are immigrants and refugees. They don’t speak the local language well, they don’t dress like Europeans, they seem different. Integrating into European society (or any new society) can be challenging at best. When people view you with distrust because of your background, it is much harder. When they stare at you when you walk down the street, when you feel the mistrust when you shop for groceries, you wonder if it is worth it to try and fit in to this new society. You might as well give up – you will never be accepted as a full member of society.

That is the terrorist’s ideal. They don’t want Muslims to become French, or German or Canadian. They want them to remain part of a closed society. They want them to remain in bondage.

How we react to a terrorist attack says a lot about who we are. Are we willing to allow terrorists to set the agenda and convince us that all members of an entire religion are evil, intending our destruction? (Please note, I do think there is a difference between the religion and most of its adherents.)

Think about it. How would Jesus have responded? That is how we should too.

 

December 13, 2018

Strasbourg Christmas Market Shoppers Weren’t Expecting Bullets

Reports of killing rampages which take place in Europe may seem a world away, but it’s different when you walked those same streets just five months earlier. You have a mental picture which no television news crew can come close to approximating. You remember how those streets fit together. You remember the crush of people when you were there. You try to imagine what you might do or where you would run if the same thing had happened on the day you visited.

Crowd scenes have always been potential threats. For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve been aware of men switching their wallets to their front pockets and women clutching their purses more tightly. But of late we’ve realized that every concert, every sporting match, every trip to the shopping mall is fraught with the possibility of a random act of violence being carried out by someone mentally deranged or having a political agenda.

As we walked the streets of Strasbourg earlier this year, those thoughts are always in the back of your mind, but they are buried deep — very deep — as you take in the sights and sounds and smells. The people at the Christmas market on Tuesday night were no doubt in the same head-space; not expecting anything the second before the bullets could be heard.

The city we saw was beautiful. In the collage above, the upper left corner looks like it’s from a tourism photo. The tour boat came by at the right time and there was a young couple, possibly on their honeymoon, standing next to us who I chose not to photograph. We had crossed the border from Germany an hour earlier and after an unnecessarily long bus ride, had been let loose in this picturesque place that stated so clearly we were now in France.

Christmas Markets are a big deal in Europe. Our friend Lorne has written about them extensively. When you’re in the moment of a scene like the one upper right, you never think of people firing shots into the crowd; you never consider your vulnerability. Your brain doesn’t say, “I could be dead in the next five seconds.”

Which is how it should be. You ought to be able to enjoy an occasion like this in relative security. But that’s not the world we live in.

As of this morning the confirmed death toll is 3, with 13 people injured.


(I’ve included enlarged versions of the two pictures mentioned below.)

 

April 29, 2018

Stupid Peace

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog Voice of One Whispering, where this was a follow-up to a previous post on anxiety and adapting to anxiety with medication, click this link.

I generally like to write blog posts that are self-contained isolated thoughts, but today what I happen to have on my mind piggybacks what I wrote about anxiety last time.

There, I mentioned that my brain “handles” differently now. I have a bit more control over where my thoughts go than I used to. I can steer them, but they don’t turn on a dime. Anxiety still strikes, but now I can do something about it.

A phrase from the Bible that has followed me around for quite a long time is “The peace that passes understanding,” (Phil 4:7). The thing is, I’ve never quite understood what that means. The “peace that passes understanding” passes my understanding. I can partially grasp the idea: because we know that we’re in God’s hands, we can have peace even if everything in our life, as we understand it, is falling apart. We have a peace that transcends what we see in our day to day life.

The problem with this concept is that we’re necessarily giving something up. We handing over our security in ourselves (or lack thereof) and in a self-effacing surrender we’re giving up our desire to be in control and in the know.

This completely irrational foreclosure of individual understanding is called “Trust” and I hate it.

On a similar note, Proverbs 3:5 tells to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” To Western ears, this is the most ridiculous and offensive idea anyone could come up with – willfully not understanding. I imagine it’s also, to those of us prone to anxiousness, extremely attractive.

So I’m still struggling to achieve functional adulthood (whatever that means) and today I was told by my dentist that I might need an unexpected procedure done. A minor procedure for a minor problem, but a pricey one. And on the walk back I was worrying a lot. But then I took the reins of my Serotonin-replete brain and thought “What if I just choose not to worry about it?”

“Yeah, it feels incredibly stupid to not worry about it because it’s a rather harsh blow to the bank account. It’s an objectively miserable thing to have to deal with, but worrying about it doesn’t get me to a solution any faster so why I don’t I just skip the anxiousness phase and make the most of my day?”

And then I went home and took what a friend of mine calls a “depression nap.” You know, when sleeping is easier than thinking about the thing. Again, it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it can be gradually nudged in the right direction.

The peace that passes understanding is a stupid peace because we, in and of ourselves, have no reason- we see no cause for peace. We, in and of ourselves, have no control. But if there’s someone we can trust watching out for us, maybe a little bit of stupidity isn’t just quite pleasant but in fact the most rational response.

It might take a few hours, it might take a few days, but I’ll get past this emotional bump in the road and hop back on the highway to peace. The way there is rather counter-intuitive but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

 

December 12, 2017

Don’t Worry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

Years ago someone told me that when you say to someone, “Don’t forget…” you are actually introducing the possibility that they might. So when my wife says to me,

Don’t forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home

my brain hears

There is a possibility that you will forget to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

or some say that my brain possibly deletes the first word and hears

Forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home.

I’m not sure how widespread the view is that this is how the brain operates, though I certainly understand the potential and the principle. Furthermore, I’m not sure that

Remember to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

while it eliminates the negative, is not simply introducing the same possibility that I might not remember…

…So when I’m reminded that the Bible’s most frequent command is “Fear not;” I can certainly see how that phrase, repeated to someone in my family where anxiety runs high, might not have the soothing, calming effect the speaker intends.

As to the frequency of the command, a popular idea is that the phrase occurs 365 times in scripture; conveniently one for each day. Here’s a blog post that refutes that notion, and one that argues against trying to refute it.

The point is that even though I know positionally that “The Lord is my shepherd;” I am given to anxiety and right now, my youngest son is going through a time where fear is running high and I’m certainly empathizing with his pain.

Just telling someone not to fear may not be helpful. A hug might be much better. Or an hour in conversation. Or an activity which distracts from the cause of the anxiety.

 

October 4, 2016

Fragile Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Regular readers here may have noticed that over the past two weeks there has been in an increase in the amount of re-purposed content on the blog. We’re in a period of great stress as a family and I’ve had to prioritize keeping Christianity 201 up-to-date over providing fresh material here.

I wrote some of this five years ago. I’ve added a little extra to it today. Right now, it’s more relevant than ever…

Faith Under Pressure

I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure and finding myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it. Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. (Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?)

My mother often quoted Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

kjv_jeremiah_12-5

In the NIV it reads,

5 “If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens? Except things these days are particularly overwhelming me. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response. 

At times like this — and there have been many lately — I have seriously questioned the genuineness of my faith. I have come to recognize over time that everyone is dealing with something, but the nature and duration of our situation has just seemed unusually cruel. I feel like there’s some lesson I’m to learn from all this, but until I learn it, the circumstances can’t change.

It’s one thing to know all the scriptures which offer the promise of peace in the middle of the storm, but it’s another thing to actually feel that peace descend on you as you expected it would. It’s one thing to know all the verses which speak of trusting and relying on God, but it’s another thing to be able to release that burden.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else. It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to.

June 21, 2016

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:04 am

The Sea

When I arrived at University at age 17, I joked about filing a lawsuit against my elementary and high school board of education as compensation for all the things they never taught me. “How,” I asked anyone within earshot, “is it possible that I have arrived at this place with so many things I don’t know.”

Sometimes I feel that way about my religious education as well. I find myself years on wondering why I am hearing so many things for the first time. The background context to familiar stories. The way a passage in the NT ties in with several in the OT. The manner in which a story can be processed correctly on two different levels.

Depth. Richness. Passion. All the things that weren’t present the first time around those texts.

Like the thing about the people at the time of Christ having a phobia about the sea. It makes no sense, a large voting block of the disciples were fishermen. Boats. Water. Fish. And yet…

Knowing about the aquaphobia (fear of water) that characterized people in the times and places where scripture originates is actually helpful to understanding a number of Bible passages and narratives. R. C. Sproul writes.

The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.

We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (v. 4).

…But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional arch-rivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.

The [nation of Israel] looked forward to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.

The sea represented chaos, the earth looks forward to a restoration of order. The New Earth has a river running through it, but there is no sea…

Sunset - Mark Batterson…Why am I writing this today?

As you get older, your memory starts to contain the summation of all the various stories you’ve heard; from friends, from newspapers, from television, etc. Each of these is filed away in your mind by category, and one of those classifications would involve water accidents. Boats sinking. Drownings. Persons lost at sea.

I’m realizing that with the arrival of summer, there is a thing where Canadians want to be near a body of water. Perhaps it’s because our summer is so short, and our temperatures run to great extremes. We want to (literally) dive in and experience the heat of the sun and the cool of the lake at the same time.

But I’m also realizing that I now have a healthy respect for the water. Some friends have a pond that is spring fed and there’s a point in the middle where I can’t begin to imagine how deep it is. I find myself getting more nervous venturing out that far. I think of the ocean, but then I hear stories of rip tides, something that just wasn’t in my consciousness on the annual family trip to Miami Beach and I want to rethink my memories. I think of the Great Lakes, one of which is just blocks from my house, but I’m reminded of stories of hypothermia, and it tempers my desire to go out on boats large and small. The water represents the unknown.

Boy Afraid of the OceanIs this an age thing, or simply the result of news overload? Do we reach a point where we regress and become the little child afraid of the waves? What about the classification of healthy fears; is this one admissible? Have I become J. Alfred Prufrock from the poem by Eliot?

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

No, not hearing mermaids singing. Not so far, anyway.

But definitely at a point where pictures of the sea can be frighteningly beautiful.


Credit: The middle photograph was taken by Mark Batterson

Aquaphobia is a basic fear of water; the fear of the sea is called Thalassophobia

October 18, 2015

No Fear in Death

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:42 am

Today we have a guest post by Rick Apperson. Well, Rick doesn’t actually know that yet, but we’ve known each other a long time (in blog years) and have shared content before. Rick blogs at Just a Thought and is a husband, father, Salvation Army pastor and author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ. You could keep going here, or you could send Rick some link love by clicking here to read.

No Fear in Death

I was preaching on heaven and hell recently.  As I spoke to the congregation, I said, “We are all going to die.  In fact every breath we take is one step closer to the end.”

I was taken aback when just then a man in the service began having a seizure.  He was OK and later that week he joked about how he had that seizure at that point in the message.  He was scared in the moment but later saw the humor in it.

Google the term “fear of death” and you will get 160,000,000 results.

160 Million!

Coping, overcoming, medical labels…there is a ton of stuff on the topic.  I get the sense that quite a few people out there must be afraid of dying.  I know that over the years I’ve been one of them.

As a kid I was afraid of the dark, afraid of death and at times afraid of my own shadow!  My fear of death was not so much the death itself but the possible pain involved in getting there.  I was afraid of the suffering and misery, the long goodbye that is often associated with death. Even after I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I was worried about death.  I have had panic attacks sitting in doctors offices, heart palpitation while getting x-rays and near nervous breakdowns waiting for test results.

I admit it.  I’ve been weak at times.

I know the Bible talks about fear. I quoted 2 Timothy 1:7 and Philippians 4:6-7 until I was blue in the face.  No matter what I did, fear would only be tamped down but for a moment.

I found Proverbs 12: 25 to be true. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”  I was being weighed down by my anxiety.

Yet today, I can testify that that fear is rapidly diminishing.  I have grown more comfortable in my own mortality. Through prayer and God speaking through a friend and brother, I have been healed of that anxiety.  I know I am going to die and I am ok with it.  My eternal destination is one I long for more than dread.

My son CJ and I had a conversations about heaven recently and listening to his child like faith, I found myself longing for the day I can spend eternity with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears.

I get excited because I am literally dying to meet Jesus!

I came across this quote while reading a Civil War history book today:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” – General “Stonewall” Jackson.

“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Victory in Jesus!

August 29, 2013

Back to School Blues

New Church Year

In many parts of Canada, back-to-school doesn’t happen until after Labor Day. So the weekend takes on added significance…

My friend Jimmy watched from across the road as my parents off-loaded a very pale version of my younger self from the backseat. He approached the car to ask about our weekend away at a Christian conference center, but I was quickly escorted into the house, into my room and onto the bed.

People did get sick from the water sometimes — it was before the days of today’s water control standards — but my ailment was brought on entirely by the stress and anxiety of facing another school year. It arrived for several years like clockwork on the first Monday of September.

I have no idea why, and no idea how it disappeared. I know in high school there was always a nervousness about new teachers, new textbooks and new subjects; but by then I looked forward to school. Furthermore, the actual physical illness dissipated by Junior High, though there was always a little bit of trepidation.

With two kids in university, we’re still not divorced from the school start-up date as being the true New Year’s Day; and I still find myself sensing echoes of the butterflies and apprehension involved in kicking into another fall season.  In most of our churches, the ministry year kicks off in earnest in the fall; and the business I own is tied to the retail cycle, where September marks the ramp-up toward Christmas.

In some ways, I suppose it’s spiritually good and healthy to recognize when things are a little out of your control. Each portion of the life cycle brings with it enough uncertainty to know that it is God, not us who is fully in control.

Jimmy went on to become a Catholic priest. I tried to track him down, and got as far as church he had recently left, but then the trail went cold. I’m not a detective; I don’t have the resources to pursue it any further. I thought he’d like to know that we shared a common destiny of being involved in different aspects of vocational ministry.

Mysteriously, I was always well enough to attend school the next day. I never missed the first day of classes. Maybe I was becoming ill 24-hours too soon.

I know that my mostly U.S. readership lives in places where the kids have been back to class for as much as three weeks now; so be it belated, or just about right, I wish you a happy new year.

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