Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Some tips on sailing

James 1:2-8
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

A ship upon the sea is certain to weather storms. Rough winds, rolling waves, and sheeting rain are simply a part of sailing. A wise captain of a vessel, whether that be an ocean liner or a canoe, will learn to handle storms properly. Our lives can be compared to this.

We sail across the white crests and swells of life, not without aim, but towards that Promised Land to which our Savior has called us. Making for His safe harbor we constantly seek to keep our prow oriented by the compass of Scripture and look ahead longingly towards that shore which might at any moment be suddenly visible on the horizon.

Jesus also waits for us to arrive, and our arrival will occasion great celebration. This mutual desire that we reach our destination prompts our Lord to allow our vessel from time to time the privilege of encountering a storm.

This thought may sound odd. How can those trials, or storms, of life be counted as a privilege and a gift from heaven? Simply put, a ship needs wind to sail. Ponder with me how storms may be a blessing or a curse.

When a storm begins to form to our stern, how can we respond? In general, there are four courses we may take. One course is to ship sails and try to wait it out. This approach is at once easy and difficult. True it takes little effort to cease our striving, to stall in our spiritual growth and simply try to keep our heads low until the storm passes. However, what a terrible beating our vessel will often suffer while in the midst of the winds and waves! Also, storms are of different lengths, and some last for a very long time. How sad to have suffered so long only to emerge from the storm and be still where you were, or even blown off course!

A second response is to turn rudder and head back. Cutting back through the storm is done at the peril of two possible hazards. Either the ship will make it successfully through the storm but find itself greatly set back and with much sailing to do before it can regain the lost ground, or the ship may be caught in the clutches of the storm and suffer great damage.

Yet a third response to storms is to steer at a right angle and try to get out of the storm as quickly as possible. This approach is dangerous and hurtful, obviously, for it necessitates that the ship steer erratically, not guided by the compass of Scripture which alone can guide the vessel safely, but by the inclinations of the storm. Should the escape attempt be successful, it may take a great while before the ship even knows how far from its course it has drifted, let alone make progress again.

Finally, the fourth and best method for dealing with storms is to hold the wheel firm, open the sails full, and trust in the One who sent the storm that the winds will be for your good and not evil. Remember, He has promised you every resource you need to survive, and not just to survive, but to live a life of abundance. Should you feel the hull of your vessel quake beneath you, fear not, for God has supplied what you shall need. Sometimes this will come by a strengthening of your vessel from the inside, a reinforcing of those timbers and planks which keep everything together. At other times He will cause another ship, stronger and more experienced than you, to sail up alongside you and aid you through. In all cases, however, He who loves His own to the end will never let you shatter and sink. If you trim your ship like this, what great speed you will make towards your goal! What endurance you will produce to give you the strength needed to complete your journey!

My brethren, when the storm breaks upon you, trust Him! The winds are not to destroy. The winds carry you home.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

While driving this morning...

Today asserted itself in a fashion such as California is wont to have in the fall from time to time. The sky was full of clouds, like a billowy whipped topping spread out to each horizon. As I drove down I-5 towards seminary the sun had begun to warm the backs of some clouds and created a mottling of pale yellows and blue-edged grays. I thought to myself that a day is much like a fire – born in pale yellows and dying in fierce reds as of smoldering embers. Against this backdrop every road sign, power line tower, and roof ridge stood sharp against the sky as though their shapes had been knifed into the heavens and the distant night air allowed to shaft through the rift.

Alone in my thoughts and in the enjoyment of this view, I found myself suddenly drawn to a singular shape in the clouds ahead and just to the left of my direction of travel. The gently smoothed clouds were here disturbed. Like a gentle river which, when scraped over shallow rocks, creates eddies and whirls before regaining its composure, the sky had in this place a similar appearance. It seemed as though something just above it was eager to break through. And then I was overtaken by a sudden longing.

Oh to have seen my Savior break through those clouds this morning! I was somewhat surprised at how fully and deeply this desire gripped me. Staring into those clouds I was reminded of how dearly we as believers in Jesus are to hold the hope of His return. Do you find yourself looking skyward with the knowledge that one day those heavens will bend, tilt and sway beneath the weight of their Creator as He arcs from heaven to earth, not as a humble child, but as a conquering King? Do you find yourself anxious to ascend into the ether above to there join with He who loves you best that He might take you to where you shall most truly and forever be at home, a land in which righteousness may dwell? Think on Him often today, let your heart be glad knowing that His coming is soon! Let not the troubles of this day create such a cloud over your countenance that joy can find no vestige.

I backed my car carefully into a parking space along the wash beside the seminary. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder and straightening my tie, I stepped out into the rain which was falling. I walked the space of 300 yards or so between my car and the seminary building wondering how long the rain would hold up. Soon, I knew, the clouds and rain would be gone. There are already doomed – destined to be burned away before the heat of the noonday sun. And so shall all clouds of sin and death, of pain and hurt, of frustration, sickness, and sorrow be burned up one day – doomed to be seared from the life of every believer by the loving heat of the Son.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Time and God's Time

Today I begin what shall grow into a short series of entries related to our conception of time and heaven.  To lay before you the question up for consideration today, I ask, “Is God outside of time?”  To this question may be added those which necessarily arise from it and color it.  Did God create time?  What is God’s relationship to time?  Would not time, if God exist within it, thus become a constraining or limiting influence on God and wrest His sovereignty and omnipotence from Him?  I do suggest that the solution to these questions may be quite simple, and yet perhaps outside the scope of thinking to which we are currently accustomed.

My thesis shall be that God is indeed not outside of time, nor within it, but that God is Himself of such a nature that He may be said to be time.  How can this be?  Permit me the time to expound upon this assertion.  First, let it be said that God is identified to be those things which so characterize and proceed from Him that they are inherent to His Person.  As examples I refer you to those passages in Scripture which state that God is love (I John 4:8), just (Deut. 32:4), holy (Lev. 11:44), etc.  There is another attribute of God which is so simple and essential that it can be overlooked or under-estimated, that is the attribute which God Himself chose to represent Him before Pharaoh in Egypt.  God is the I Am.  God is.  He exists, He has always existed, and He always will.

Does this not mean that He is outside of time then?  No!  Much to the contrary, in my opinion, God is the existence by which all other existing things are measured and compared.  It is against His eternal progression of existing that we have our context (i.e. our concept of time) for existence.  God is time, and all other existing things are given the grace to co-exist for the amount of “time” and in the manner which He deems best.  Allow me to illustrate this.

The passage of every student through high school involves taking a class called World History.  It is the study of what has happened, in chronological order, upon this planet for the duration of recorded history.  The study is divided up evenly into basic units of measurement – the year and the day primarily – which can be used to define the existence and length of each significant event discussed.  The revolution of the earth around the sun, and of the earth about its axis, then, is the standard from which we extract the idea of “time” and apply it to the happenings of our lives.  It is at this point that some theologians interject, “Aha!  There it is as plain as can be.  The movement of the earth defines time, and the earth is created, therefore at the creation of the universe and the setting of it in motion was time born.”  This is a conclusion that occurs too soon.  Trace your thoughts further along the line and a different conclusion begins to take shape.  Our lives are defined chronologically by the movements of the earth, but what about the earth?  It has its definition of existence defined by the creation of the universe and its sustaining forces.  And what of the universe?  It has its existence defined by that which created it and sustains it – namely, God.  Just as our love is an echo of that attribute which exists truest and first in God, so the progression of our existence (what we call time) is an echo that issues from, is governed by, and finds its substance in the progression of God’s existence.

God, then, is time.  His existence is linear in the sense that His existence was, and is, and will be.  God undertakes tasks which occur, are completed, have consequences, and lead to further action.  Consider the story of Christ.  Christ, according to Scripture, was born at the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4).  His life was lived out until His crucifixion and resurrection were complete, at which time He returned to the Father having finished (John 19:30) what He came to do.  This interjection of God into the affairs of man is a tremendous burden to any theories placing God outside of time.  The theory which states that God is completely separate from “time” poses the question, how, then does He exist with a progression of purposes which are accomplished.  Do the angels and other heavenly beings also exist separate from time?  How then did they come to conspire, fall, and be judged?  The theory which supposed God to exist at all times equally (a time version of omnipresence) creates the horrid prospect that for eternity Christ hangs on the cross as truly as He reigns in heaven.

To conclude this lengthy meandering of thought, a few last words are appropriate.  This is a theory, and as such is not doctrine.  This is a supposition made more from logic than any other source.  Those who disagree are not to be labeled as heretics or simpletons, and I welcome any thoughtful rebuttal to this essay.  I do believe, however, that God is not diminished or limited in any way by saying that He is not outside of time, because I believe His control and authority over all things is affirmed by the notion that the progression of God’s existence is the essence of what we call time.  Perhaps there is more to be said, but I shall leave that up to my patient readers in their comments, for I am out of time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"To blog or not to blog," this has been my question for some time now. Should I join the ranks of frenetic angst writers, perturbed pundits and various other representatives of the literate world, or should I avoid adding yet another voice to an already deafaning
roar? Obviously I have chosen the latter.

So, what moved me to begin blogging? Well, to be honest, the reasons are primarily selfish. I need to write more, and blogging has made writing cool again. Since beginning my arduous career at the Master's Cemetary, I have found frequent occasion to sympathize with that pathos-troubled American poet and story-teller Edgar Allen Poe when he penned the following lines at the opening of his well-known poem The Raven,

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore..."

I have on occassion, while thus engaged in poring over some tome, felt the gentle tapping, not of a Raven, but of some pitiable thought begging to be formed and freed from the obscurity and tormenting activity of my mind. Since a number of these thoughts have begun to collaborate, and the sum volume of their will has risen to a level of mild distraction, I have finally and fully acquiesced to their desires.

Now that the Pandora's box is open, what may be found to issue from it? Well, my patient reader, it is my wish that the words of this blog shall impart grace to the reader, whether through the provacation of Godward thought or the sheer enjoyment of levity. Your comments are welcome and requested, assuming they are appropriate.

And thus it begins...