Thursday, March 27, 2014

WALK BY SIGHT / WALK BY FAITH


…For we walk by faith, not by sight--(2 Corinthians 5:7)
These are the words of the Apostle Paul in describing the Christian life. We often hear about “living a life of faith” and “walking by faith.” These are very pious sounding words, but sometimes we do not really understand what it means to walk by faith.
     On the other hand, walking by faith is often misrepresented and ridiculed. Christians are sometimes accused of having a “blind faith” and placing hope on something that, deep down, they fear does not really exist. Mark Twain, for all his whit and writing ability, did great damage in mischaracterizing the life of faith with the much quoted statement of one of his characters: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
          A few weeks ago, I wrote some blog posts about another act of ridicule against the life of faith when I spoke of the “pie in the sky” parody.  (link: Pie in the Sky Faith). Both of these references are humorous, and if we do not take them too seriously, we can laugh. But unfortunately, they have also mischaracterized what really is a walk of faith.

But if these things are not true, then what does it mean to walk by faith in contrast to walking by sight? Is it true that those of us who practice walking by faith, walk in blind trust, without any evidence whatsoever?
          If it might help in your understanding, here is how I would compare a life of walking by faith in contrast with a life of walking by sight alone:

Walking by sight can be likened to standing in a doorway of a room, not entering, but only standing so that we can see all that the room on the other side contains. We are able to stand in the doorway without making any real commitment to enter. Finally, when we are satisfied that we know sufficiently what is in the room, we may choose whether or not to enter. Our commitment only follows our sight. It does not go before.
          This is walking by sight. In this world, this seems to be a reasonable way of conducting ourselves, but it is not the walk that God tells us we should be doing. The reason, of course, is that there are many things with which we must deal that are not of this world. These things we cannot perceive with our senses. This is why God tells us that we should learn to walk by faith.

Walking by faith is a little different than walking by sight. It is better explained using a different metaphor than standing in a door of a room. Walking by faith is better illustrated when we think of ascending a staircase that we must climb before we enter a room that is at the top of the stairs.
          Standing at the bottom of the stairs, we are able to see very little of what is in the room above. It is not as if we do not see anything of the room before we begin to climb, it is just that we are not able to see things plainly. In addition to this of course, there also are many other items in the room that we cannot see at all. In order for us to be able to see more, we must make a commitment. We must step up on the first riser.
          This is how walking by faith is different than walking by sight. When we walk by sight, we do not make any commitment beyond what we can see with our eyes. When we walk by faith, we find that we must make a commitment of sorts in order to be able to get a better vision to that place where we are going.
          When we step up on the first riser, we learn that indeed, we can see just a bit more of what is in the room above. But in order to gain the next improvement of our vision, we find that we must again make another commitment. We step up on the next stair riser.
          With each consecutive step, we may see a little more, but each one requires a step of faith on our part. In fact, our entire understanding depends more upon faith in the promise that we have about the room, than it does based on a decision about what we can see. As we continue to ascend the staircase, some of the questions that we had on the first step are answered, but many are not.
          What we have is a promise, and the faith that is calling for our commitment is based on that promise. Our own perceptions remain a part of our walk, but faith requires that our walk takes action because of the promise of what we have been told.
          We can see of course, that walking by faith in this way can be a dangerous act. If the object of our faith is not trustworthy, we fall into deception.  As we ascend the steps, we are further committing ourselves to enter into the room.  It is possible that one ascends a staircase only to find that in the end, he had been deceived.
          That is why I said that the life of faith is mainly based on a promise, but that our own perceptions nevertheless remain in play. Since our ascent of the stairs is motivated by faith in what we have been told, it is reasonable for us to assume that as we gain a clearer perspective of the contents in the room above, we should be able to assess the validity of those things that we have been told about the room.
          Each step should further confirm the promise about the room. If it does not, then we know that we may be ascending the wrong staircase.

Each person has his or her own experience. My own experience is that I have sought to walk by faith based on the promises of the God of the Bible, the God of all creation. My walk of faith has been far from perfect, but I will say that I have been very slowly ascending the consecutive risers of the stairway. My vision is also far from perfect, but I will also say that it is much clearer now than it has ever been in the past.
          All of this has required of me, consecutive acts of commitment to a promise. Sometimes I have been asked to make this commitment based on agonizingly little physical evidence. In retrospect of those moments of commitment (some of them still very clear to me), I can say that in every case, the promise of God has proven valid. This has given me courage to step up onto the next riser.

I continue to climb. My faith is ever stronger. I know that the God who has shown Himself worthy of my faith as I have trusted Him in the past, will be worthy of my faith in the future. His promise does not fail.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE TORRID ZONE

And there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.  (Isaiah 4:6 NAS)


The sun over my head seared upon me, blinding and hot.  I had been on an extended walk and was nearing home where I lived in Venezuela, but crossing an open soccer field at noon was more than I could endure at the end of my journey.  As I made my way across the turf, I noticed that the town had recently erected huge poles around the field, the bases of which were nearly two feet in diameter. These were the poles on which workers were to later place lights to illuminate the field at night.

I had been hiking under the cloudless sky and in the full sunlight all morning long. Now, crossing this field, I felt what little energy that I still had drain away from me. After enduring the heat of the sun for some hours; I decided that when I reached the other end of the field, I would sit with my back resting on the shady side of one the poles for a few

These are not the light poles
but you can see what I mean
minutes before taking the last leg of my return trip to our home.

Much to my dismay, however, as I approached my intended resting spot, I could see no shadow.  I walked completely around the pole and was disheartened to find that every side of the light post was being heated by the sun.  Squinting my eyes, I looked up at my tormenter above my head and realized that it was noon, and I was in the Torrid Zone at the equinox.

The equinox is that time of year in the tropics when at noon, the sun is directly overhead.  The light pole on the soccer field, which was at least fifty or sixty feet high, cast not a single shadow.  The sun shone down directly on the smaller tip of the pole and sent its burning rays flowing down every side of the post’s growing diameter all the way to the base.  It offered no respite for a weary traveler.  I looked down at my own feet.  I saw that I also cast almost no shadow.  Indeed, if my shape had been that of the light pole, there would have been absolutely none.

At any point between the Tropic of Cancer, which runs

Antipodes is another interesting word
I have written about it somewhere
parallel to the Equator a bit more than 23 degrees to the north, and the Tropic of Capricorn, which runs correspondingly south of the Equator, there are two dates during the year when the sun is directly overhead at noon.  The area in between these northern and southern limits is known as the “
Torrid Zone.”  “Torrid” describes well how I felt at that moment.  It means, “Parched with the heat of the sun.”

The English language has another interesting word regarding this phenomenon.  It is the noun “ascian.”  This word is a derivative two Greek words that mean “without” and “shadow.”  Ascian is used as a descriptive noun that means, “One that has no shadow: an inhabitant of the Torrid Zone where the sun is vertical at noon twice a year.”

17th-century British philosopher and author Nathanael Carpenter wrote of the inhabitants of Torrid Zone.

“They are mysterious to me, these Ascians,” he said, speaking of the people of the tropics, “for twice each year, at the very instant of noon on the equinoxes, their shadows vanish, and they appear to me to be enchanted.”



I was one of those inhabitants of the tropics who cast no shadow, but did not feel enchanted.  I felt depleted and wretched and driven to continue my journey without refreshment.



THE WEARINESS OF THE TORRID ZONE

As any farmer who works in the open field can tell you, one does not need to live in the Torrid Zone to feel this way.  I specifically remember one day as a boy when I was loading hay bales onto a wagon with my brother Paul.  My throat was so dry and parched I could not work up any moisture in my mouth.  I tried to moisten my tongue enough to see if I could whistle, but I had no reserve within me to make any sound at all, just the blowing of the dry air between my scorched lips.

Neither did the prophet Isaiah live in the Torrid Zone.  Nevertheless, when he wrote of the kingdom of the coming Messiah as “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2), he painted a picture for us that we all can understand, even if we are not the mysterious inhabitants of the Torrid Zone.  In our lives, we all come upon times of extreme weariness. 

Perhaps weariness comes because of one in whom we

One year I kept track of the length of
the shadow cast by the stick at noon.
It looks like I figured the sun reached
its Zenith on April 9 where we lived.
(we lived about 7.7 ° N)

have invested much love and effort has turned his back on us and rejected us.  Or, we see that the righteousness in which we believe has become a mockery to the world, and evil seems to have become victorious.  Sometimes in the midst of our weariness, it becomes very difficult to find refreshment.  Our lives are dry and parched and we have no reserve for song.

Indeed, these are exactly the circumstances for weariness that the prophet Isaiah felt along with the people to whom he was writing.  The people of the nations of Israel and Judah had placed their hope in kings who would lead them in righteousness.  Instead of this, however, the kings had mostly been influences to lead the people away from what was right. They instead led them into wickedness and idolatry.

“Alas sinful nation,” Isaiah laments, “People weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly!  They have abandoned the Lord.  They have despised the Holy One of Israel.  They have turned away from Him!” (Isaiah 1:4 NAS).

The people who sought righteousness felt as if they were on a wearisome journey.  They were seeking shade but could find none.  Nevertheless, any journey, no matter how difficult and toilsome, becomes bearable when we know that there will be renewal and refreshment at the end.

It was to these wearisome travelers that Isaiah continued to write, “When he Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst…there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat of the day and a refuge and protection from the storm and the rain” (Isaiah 4:4a,6 NAS).



REFRESHMENT IN THE TORRID ZONE

As for righteous leaders, Isaiah tells his people that God Himself will be their leader.  “For you,” Isaiah speaks to God, “have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm [and] a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25: 4 NAS).

Then, to give hope to the people who have become weary – hope that there will be refreshment at the end of their journey, Isaiah says this: “The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of the wine of the sheltered place, choice pieces with marrow, and (he repeats this to stress the point) refined wine, aged in the sheltered place” (Isaiah 25:6).

 “Behold, a king will reign righteously and princes will rule justly.  Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land” (Isaiah 32:1-2 NAS).



Any journey, no matter how difficult and toilsome, becomes bearable when we know that there will be renewal and refreshment at the end (I repeat this to stress the point).

It is for this reason that the Bible speaks so frequently of the coming kingdom.  Jesus had this in mind when He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father's house are many dwelling places… for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3 NAS).

When we are weary of the journey and need refreshment, He says this: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NAS).

There are times that weariness comes to the laborer.  Toil produces fatigue.  It is in these times that it is important to remember the words of the writer of Psalm 91:  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’”  (vs. 1-2 NAS).  It is the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

“Behold, I am making all things new…Then He said to me, ‘It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 19:9; 21:5-7; 22:12 NAS).


For you have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat.  Isaiah 25:4 NAS


Friday, March 14, 2014

THE CHAINSAW



Admittedly, the chainsaw is a very violent tool.  It was designed to do a violent task.  Sawing into a huge oak log is a job that cannot be accomplished in a half-hearted manner.  It is a task that requires much effort both on the part of the tool and the bearer of the tool.
In the days when my father was a young man, most sawing was done by means of a two-man cross-cut saw.  This was a beautiful tool, about six feet long with a handle on each end.  The cutting teeth stood up from the saw blade a good two inches – at least when the tool was new.  With use, these teeth got filed shorter and shorter with each sharpening.  The teeth alternated between cutting teeth and raking teeth.  The function of the “rakers” was to remove the sawdust from the cut so that the cutters could
do their job unhindered.
Two men would wield this saw, one on each end.  They would work together as a team – coordinating their efforts with each other.  The pull stroke of each was the cutting stroke, so as one man pulled, the other man had a second of relaxation before he pulled to make his cut.
          With the cross-cut saw, most of the effort was expended by the two sawyers.  That is why these men were able to work in temperatures ten degrees below zero in their shirtsleeves and eat twenty pancakes for breakfast.
My Dad was understandably happy to see the advent of
When I was little, my dad had a saw like this one


the chainsaw.  With the chainsaw, much of the effort in cutting an oak log was transferred from the lumberjack to the tool.  The chainsaw had a snorting motor, which powered a revolving chain armed with a hundred tiny chisels that would tear through the log.  It was a much more time-efficient tool and greatly increased the production of each man.
I grew up during the era of the chainsaw and never
really learned to use a cross-cut saw.  I have used one only to experience its feel. I now have an old saw of my Dad’s hanging on the wooden wall of my study for decoration.  But that is really as far as my relationship with the cross-cut saw has developed.
None who must actually make a living by working in the woods would desire to return to the tools of the days of my father’s youth.  I know of some men, who instead of using enormous log skidders that roar through the woods on huge rubber tires, have traded these diesel-powered monsters for a team of horses.
The horses trod quietly along, pulling behind them the tree that has been cut down.  These loggers who use horses have attempted to regain a measure of tranquility in working in the woods.  However, I know of none of these men that have taken the step of returning to hand powered tools for cutting trees.  There is a point where romanticism is tempered with reality and practicality.
Still, that does not keep us from romanticizing in our imagination.  At this moment as I write, I am sitting thousands of miles from my study where the cross-cut saw hangs.  And where I am in the point of time at this moment is even further from the days when my father was a young man.  I do admit that, when life becomes extremely complicated, there are moments that I wish to return to both.

A LOSS OF PARTNERSHIP
The cross-cut saw was a tool of cooperation; a tool of partnership.  Men worked together.  The chainsaw, by contrast, is a solitary tool.  Indeed, it is unsafe for another to stand too close to one who is operating a chainsaw.  Not
only does the violence of the saw prohibit the presence of another, but the noise it produces even blocks out every other sound that the loggers might otherwise share. 
Therein lies the trade-off.  These are things that did not occur to loggers when they pulled the chord of the first chainsaws to start the snarling engines.  These lumberjacks only saw a great help in their tiring work.  They saw the possibility of cutting more logs during a day to help them improve their lot in life.  They saw less aching muscles and fewer sore backs.  I will not fault them for this.  I have shared their appreciation.
But gradually something was lost.  A task that was once accomplished as a team was now accomplished alone.  The sight of two men sitting, for a few minutes, on a maple they had just cut down became less and less common. Once there was a need to take a breather and a bit of a rest to regain one’s strength.  It provided time and opportunity to chat.  Now a solitary logger fells the same size tree, and because the chainsaw has expended most of the effort, there is no need for a rest.
          Once the tree is down, immediately the logger goes to work in sawing the tree into the proper lengths and cutting off the branches.  All of this the logger does alone.  Much more work is accomplished, but much less fellowship is gained.
It is not only chainsaws, but it is also a host of other machines that we have invented for ourselves in all walks of life.  They have made our tasks easier, and in many ways better, but these changes do not come without cost.  One of the costs we commonly pay is an increasingly solitary existence in our work.
          It may not be that we are hanging on to the handles of a chainsaw.  Our personal solitary life may be one of staring at a computer screen all day in a little office cubicle.  We live in days of much higher production and much less companionship.

REGAINING PARTNERSHIP
Do we then return to the days of my father in order to retain this community?  Do we throw off all technology?  To me this does not seem to be the answer.  Rather it is better to look at these issues from a perspective that is not initially evident.
          Not only must our goal be increased production and profit margins, but we must also take into account what is in danger of being lost.  This to me is the crucial step.  If we fail in this we begin down the path towards loneliness. Before we can realize it, we destine ourselves to a lonely existence, simply because we know of no other alternative.  Like a chainsaw, the violence of modern conveniences has ripped through our community.
Can there be a marriage of romanticism and practicality?  I think there can, but it is not an easy union.  What is lost in roars of engines and individual workstations must be regained in other areas.  However, if we are increasingly becoming isolated from one another, then where are we to find this community with one another?
The word “community” of course has its root in the word “common.”  There is no community apart from having commonality with others.  Two loggers sitting on a tree they had just cut down have common interests, common goals and common needs.  Their talk involves how they are dealing with common circumstances they face.  For many of us, such simplicity is gone.  But the comradeship need not be.
I see this longing for companionship in the Apostle Paul.  We often think of Paul in terms of that strong and sufficient man of God who traveled the known world, enduring the dangers of the land and the sea, speaking to crowds and confronting men who genuinely wanted to kill him. We often look at Paul as being one who was able to carry on alone.
          Perhaps when he was busy in his work and there were challenges to overcome, Paul could handle it on his own better than most men would be able. He could lose himself in his work.
But even Paul felt the need for companionship.  Perhaps the very best of his friends was Timothy, a young man whom Paul himself had led to the Lord.  Timothy was often with Paul in his journeys and became his companion and confidant.
However, Paul also had his low times.  The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his companion Timothy during one of these times when Paul was feeling very much alone.  Paul was languishing in a cold dungeon cell, imprisoned in Rome by the Emperor Nero because of Paul’s preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Make every effort to come to me soon,” Paul told Timothy.  The apostle then goes on to tell of those who had been companions of his in the work but whom had abandoned Paul in his hour of need.  “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me.”
Paul speaks of others who had been with him.  It is not clear if all deserted him as did Demas.  Some did, but some were just busy in other areas.  But the fact was, Paul felt alone.  “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me.”  It was true that Luke was with him, but he again appeals to his companion Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” (2 Timothy 4:9-21).

The Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NAS).
Paul was anxious for Timothy to come to be with him.  He felt in need of a companion and a partner.  For getting through difficult times, two are better than one.  Because of the fact that Luke had come to be with Paul in his hour of distress, the following words of the Preacher might better apply:  “And if one can overpower him, two can resist him.  A cord of three is not quickly torn apart” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NAS).

Our situation today is much different that it was in 900 BC when these words were written, but the truth they spoke at that time still echo today.  We shall never become so independent that we will not have a need for a companion.
Because we have invented for ourselves more efficient machines to provide independence in our work does not mean that we do not need, from time to time, to sit down on a log with our partner in the same work and chat about what we have in common.  Sometimes these opportunities do not obviously present themselves to us.  Even the simplicity of finding the opportunity is gone.  The opportunities have to be sought, but their reward is worth the effort and the time it takes to find them.
The roar of technology should never be allowed to drown out the quiet need for companionship.