Battered by the Sea (of Humanity)

The other day I happened to catch a short television interview with Robert Ballard, the man primarily responsible for discovering the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985. I was struck by Ballard’s opinion that the ocean is becoming increasingly unfriendly.

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His comments quickly brought to mind the experience of a co-worker several years back. Herb and his family were vacationing along the coast, as many families in the eastern U.S. are wont to do. He waded out a short distance into the water and turned to face the beach. Herb just stood there for a while, soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the rhythmic splash of waves against his legs. Without warning, a massive rogue wave engulfed Herb, knocking him upside down and driving him into the sand. The result was a severely damaged shoulder which necessitated surgery, followed by a long and painful recovery. The sea was not so friendly on that particular day.

The Bible sometimes uses the imagery of the sea to describe humanity. I think we can all agree that the human sea is not becoming any friendlier as time progresses. There are many things we could discuss in this regard; violence in entertainment, the proliferation of drugs, and the widespread embrace of corporate greed would be just a few examples. Living in the world of media like we do, another rising trend is the demonization of those we are trying to defeat in the political arena. The result is that all Democrats promote immorality, Republicans hate the poor, conservative Christians are full of hate, and homosexuals are militants who march in parades wearing nothing but their underwear.

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Just as an angry sea will over time wear down just about any sea wall, so too the cumulative effect of an angry, cold-hearted society is the increased hardness of a culture.

Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12 (NASB)

Christians are by no means immune from being battered by the sea. In fact, we will often experience more ferocious attacks than the non-believers around us. Jesus repeatedly warned that all who desire to live for Him will be persecuted. We need to understand, however, that when people attack and accuse us, they are but pawns of the spiritual forces of wickedness ever at work our world. Whether we want to admit their existence or not, demonic forces ever seek to zap our faith, harden our hearts and blind our eyes to the kingdom of God advancing around us. And trust me, unbelief, hardness of heart, and spiritual blindness are all intricately interconnected.

As Christians we are left with a very real choice in deciding how we will respond when battered by the sea. By simply being ourselves, we choose the default response which is to become hardened, cynical, and jaded. Walking in love, on the other hand, involves (at least at first) a conscious effort. This is because the depth of love required is not naturally human. We must learn to draw upon God’s life-giving grace if we are to honor our God, preserve our families, and bless Christ’s Church through chaotic times.

How do we draw upon His grace in such circumstances? I could write a book about the topic, but for the sake of space I’ll just mention three helpful thoughts.

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1. Cultivate honesty – Be brutally honest with yourself and with God about any hardness or lack of love in your heart. Spend some focused time in prayer, asking Him to do a healing and cleansing work in your heart.

2. Cultivate faith – One of the reasons our hearts become hardened and our love cold is that we don’t honestly believe that God is at work—or will work favorably—through our circumstances. We can begin to turn that tide by standing on His promises and praying for Him to open our blind eyes to who He is, and to what He is doing in and around us. It is all much more than any of us realize.

3. Cultivate love – We can choose not to speak critically of others. We can choose to lift up a compassionate prayer of faith for a person when our hearts demand that we judge. We can make a deliberate choice to forgive those who have hurt us.

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All of this takes time to come to full fruition and so the need for repeated cultivation becomes clear. Over time the hard ground willingly gives way to the plow, the stones are removed and the harvest of love is increased.

The often relentless battering of the sea will either harden or polish us, with the end product being determined by our response. If we can learn to stay connected with God, abiding in His grace as a way of life, then no amount of battering can extinguish the love of God growing within our hearts.

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Economic Uncertainty–What an Opportunity!

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Did you hear about the rioting currently taking place in parts of Europe? Governments are trying to cut back on their massive debts by imposing austerity measures such as cutting salaries and workers benefits. This all takes place while those in power continue to grow in wealth. Such economic disparity creates a breeding ground of extreme discontent from which all sorts of violence (including terrorism) draw their strength.

Here in the U.S. recent census results show that the income gap between rich and poor has now increased to its widest margin on record, double what it was just 40 years ago. Considering the continued growth of our national debt, it’s simply a matter of time until we face even more extreme circumstances than we see today.

I certainly don’t see myself as a fatalist resigned to accept a dark foreboding future for the western world, but I am convinced that we need to confront the realities of our day through the eye of faith. I speak not of an ignorant, self-imposed blindness, but of a confidence in God that looks through and beyond very real circumstances. Natural circumstances are not unimportant, but an eternal perspective carries far greater weight.

Ours is a living hope found only through our relationship with Christ. If our hope is focused elsewhere, we will be severely disappointed—especially in our current economic times.

Hope springs eternal through identification with Christ. Hopelessness will ever bear the dark fruits of discouragement, depression, cynicism, hardness and eventually violence. It’s in this vein that I am so touched by the heroes of the faith who have gone before us. Read what Hebrews 11:8-10 has to say about Abraham:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (NET)

Abraham was so characterized by an eternal hope that he was unwilling to see even the Promised Land as home! Abraham’s real promise was God Himself. As a result all of heaven holds Abraham in the highest regard.

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Abraham looked beyond his natural circumstances and fixed his gaze upon an eternal land of opportunity. The political and economic rumblings of our day compel us to do the same. How privileged we are to live in an era that will not allow us to firmly place our trust on the ever shifting sands of human design!

We are immersed in a course of world events that supersede our individual wants and desires. Life as we’ve known it is coming to an end, while both the kingdoms of light and darkness steadily rise. Ongoing economic uncertainty will continue to challenge us to evaluate the focus of our trust. What an amazing opportunity to pursue Christ and to lay hold of the eternal, living hope found only in Him!

Aim or Complain

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Several years ago I was reading an update from a popular Christian ministry. They were complaining that a certain judge had called evangelical Christians a bunch of whiners and complainers. I suppose that the appropriate Christian response would have been for me to be outraged by that judge, but as I considered the statement, I realized that his was a fairly accurate generalization.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not supporting anti-God policies and I am all too aware that the whine potential in our country increases on a daily basis. There is much to be upset about! At the same time, the world is simply being the world, with people saying and doing what Jesus predicted they would do.

Early Christians had a very different perspective of persecution and other difficulties related to being a Christian. They recognized persecution-based suffering and difficulty as an opportunity to identify with Christ.

The Apostle Paul put it so well: “My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 (NET)

Acts 5 records the story of how Peter and some of the other apostles were arrested and beaten for healing people and preaching about Jesus—two of the most horrible crimes against God and humanity. Did they get their whine on in response to this injustice? Not at all. “So they left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Acts 5:41 (NET)

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Of course we want to share in the fullness of God’s joy, but do we aim to know Him to the point that we consider it an honor to share in His sufferings? It seems to me that we either aim to know Him and all that entails, or we complain about a world that is becoming increasingly unjust and unlike what we want.

To be identified with Christ—there is no greater honor no matter what form that identification takes. And in the midst of any circumstance, we can always identify with Him. No matter what we go through I don’t think that there is any pain we can face that He hasn’t somehow already experienced in His life or in His death on the cross.

At some point we really must ask ourselves if we truly desire to know Him or if we just want the benefits that come with having a god in our lives. If we aim to know Him and to be identified with Him in every way, our tendencies to complain will suddenly begin to disappear.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.” Philippians 2:14-16 (NET)