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.

Photo by Wonderlane — CC BY 2.0

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.

Photo by Dave_B_ — CC BY 2.0

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.

Photo by scalespeeder — CC BY 2.0

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.

Photo by downhilldom1984 — CC BY 2.0

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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Addicted to Doubt?

Original Photo by earl53 - morgueFile

Faith! Faith! Faith! Why so much about faith? I know I’ve focused quite a bit on the topic through my last several posts, but not because I feel I am highly advanced in my ability to trust God. In many ways faith has never come easily for me and I continue to have my struggles in various forms. Don’t get me wrong—I have no trouble believing in the existence of God and resting in many of His promises. It’s just those certain few areas that I continue to find most challenging. Perhaps you can relate.

There was a time years ago when I suspected a high level of unbelief in my heart, but couldn’t bring myself to admit my addiction to doubt. Anything less than perfect faith would have been equivalent to weakness—the dreaded enemy of any red-blooded western Pennsylvania male.

It’s been said that most people embrace change only when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change. Such was unquestionably the case with me. When I could no longer stand myself, I finally approached God’s throne of grace and confessed that I was a bag of unbelief.

Photo by bamagirl - morgueFile

Gazing into the rearview mirror of my life, I can’t see any dramatic fireworks at that given moment, but I can say that it was one of the most significant milestones I have ever experienced. Since that time I’ve discovered two very important truths: faith is integral to every aspect of Christianity; most people, especially those in the Western church, are Addicted to Doubt. Regardless of how much we profess to trust God, our innumerable struggles with fear and anxiety (and a whole host of sins) tell a different story.

From the outside looking in, it may appear to some folks that I’ve tried to convince myself that God can be trusted. Actually that approach never worked well for me. Instead I found honesty and a willingness to face my struggles to be a much more powerful vehicle for change. In other words, I simply put myself in a position where God could do the painstaking work of transformation in me. Honesty, transformation and trust—they all go hand in hand when it comes to breaking free from the chains that bind us.

Photo by Tedehur - morgueFile

Similar to trees, our branches go up and our roots go down, but the unseen growth of the roots is what seems to take so long. For me the pattern has been fairly consistent. A difficult situation arises in my life. I try to stand on God’s word and trust His promises, but struggle in the process. I present my shortcomings to Him, while still seeking to stand on His promises. In the end, my heavenly Father works out the details and bestows almost mystical blessings. I say “mystical” because I’m often at a loss for words when it comes to the depth of His work and the measure of His favor—all in spite of my weakness.

Armed with a deeper measure of trust, I lift my gaze and see a somewhat larger challenge appearing on the horizon . . . . The end result of this cycle is continued growth, but the process is rarely fast and never resembles a neatly wrapped fruit basket adorned with ribbons and bows. Growing in faith can be messy!

Congruent with the growth of my faith in God has been the development of both my practical and theological understanding of the importance of faith. Over the next few posts I plan to highlight what faith is and what it isn’t, and to share an understanding of several very real reasons why living by faith is non-negotiable when it comes to Christian living. It really is that important! In these tumultuous times we can no longer afford to be Addicted to Doubt!

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NASB)