Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Art for Book Lovers

The Librarian. c.1566. Oil on canvas. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593), Italian.

"There can be no great art without great fable. Great art can only exist where great men brood intensely on something upon which all men brood a little. . . (snip). . .Since the newspaper became powerful, topic has supplanted fable and subject comes to the artist untrimmed and unlit by the vitality of many minds."-John Masefield, English poet 

We are studying the golden Greek age of Pericles in our homeschool and noting how Greek myth--stories deeply entrenched in national thinking-- became the impetus for the great art, sculpture, and architecture that came forth from that era.

 At one time, the Bible was the one great story that was a uniting factor in our culture. We cannot fully appreciate our past history or our Western culture without a knowledge of the Holy Writ; our forefathers "brooded intensely" over it and made liberal references to it in their writings. Shakespeare's works are sprinkled with Biblical quotes and allusions. I have a friend who sagely comments, "Biblical illiteracy is a chosen misfortune." Do you agree?


Monday, February 11, 2013

How the Jesus Movement Affected a Non-Hippie Part I

Forty years is a Biblical generation, and it is from the vantage point of 40 years that I now look back at the Jesus Movement and how it has affected and shaped my life. Nailing down my personal history seems wise as I seek to know the "measure of my days." Psalm 39:4 and looking back gives clarity as I look to the future. The Preacher of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in our hearts, and I want to have the wisdom to search out that which is eternal.

At first glance, it might seem that the Jesus Movement was anything BUT eternal. It was a short-lived spiritual awakening that took place in our country roughly between the late 1960's until early 1980's. Like all revivals, it ignited hearts and burned brightly for a short season. Man has never learned to manage revival fire and all attempts to do so are destined to put it out, and then, mysteriously, it leaps up again in another place and time. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8  I hope to see it leap up again on behalf of my children and the next generation.

This is my story. In the early 1970's I was a good church kid. Although I wore tie-dye shirts and elephant flares, I was never a hippie nor did I aspire to be one. Sundays, you'd find me at the Baptist church playing hymns on a huge organ for the congregational singing. At some point, I started tuning in to the radio on Sunday mornings while I was getting ready for church. It was WOW radio out of Omaha, 590 AM and from 8:30 to 11:30 they aired the "Scott Ross Show." 

 I was captivated. Here was fresh Jesus music, which never replaced my love for hymns but supplemented it. Scott Ross introduced me to Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Larry Norman, Keith Green, Honeytree, and many other artists of the day. The music awakened a hunger in me, a longing that I couldn't express or understand.

I had a shoebox cassette tape player and I sat it in front of the radio and taped the program. During the week I'd replay it again and again, savoring the testimonies that Scott Ross shared but especially reveling in the music. That music became a part of me, and to this day there is a chord deep within that resonates when I hear it. For some reason, a snatch of lyrics from Phil Keaggy's As the Ruin Falls has had a lasting effect on me: "I never had a selfless thought since I was born. . ."  It was years later that I would discover C.S. Lewis and his writings, and by serendipity learn that those lyrics were taken from his poetry.

In 1974 I went off to Bible College, a straight-laced midwestern school that required me to wear dresses and nylon stockings. The bell bottom jeans, smock tops, and tie-dyed shirts were packed away but on the week-ends I'd sometimes go home and don them--my alter ego?

I remember one warm fall week-end, I got wind of a youth gathering in Shambaugh, Iowa. Shambaugh was a teeny-tiny rural community, it had a population of about 200. It was within driving distance of where I lived and I decided to check it out. Etched on my memory forever, there was something special about that night. Hippie-types converged from every direction, many were barefoot and had long hair and they were streaming to the church in large numbers. I knew very few of them and suspect they came from all of the surrounding rural communities. Once inside, there was a young man (who?) sitting on a stool, strumming a guitar and crooning a Larry Norman song, I Wish We'd All Been Ready. I don't remember anything about his musicianship, which is remarkable because I tend to always be critiquing. I don't remember much else about the evening at all, but the one single thing: Jesus was there. The Holy Spirit was living and active and so palpable that I was caught into the timelessness of eternity.

I had tasted Him, and that single taste would set me on a journey to find a spiritual community where I could find Him continually. Little did I know then where this journey would lead, but looking back I can trace the edges of His ways. He has unmistakeably lead me in paths of righteousness, and in future installments I'll share the next leg of my journey.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

A Study in Contrasts

The notorious Jonah provides an interesting contrast to the story of Jesus calming the angry sea (Mark 4 and Matthew 8).

  • In both cases, God's will was very clear. To Jonah, God said, "Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry out against it. . ."
  • And to the disciples Jesus said, "Let us cross over to the other side."  There could be no argument in either case, His will was presented in a straightforward manner.
  • Jonah acted in direct disobedience to God's will and went down into a ship headed to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. The disciples, however, followed Jesus into the boat (Mt 8:23).
  • For Jonah, "The Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest. . ."  The disciples encountered the same circumstances.  "And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves." 
  • The mariners guiding Jonah's vessel were afraid; the disciples of Jesus experienced that very same fear. 
  • In both cases, the sailors carried on board a sleeping passenger. Jonah was fast asleep in the lowest parts of the ship; Jesus slept on a pillow in the hinder part of the vessel. 
  • Finally, the sailors experienced peaceful calm only after offering up desperate prayers. In the one case the sea quit raging after they heaved Jonah overboard, and in the other story the calm was achieved at the Word of the Master.

Are there useful nuggets of truth that I can glean from this study in contrasts?

God is master of every storm, and can use them to chasten disobedience OR to exercise the faith of His obedient disciples. It behooves me to evaluate when I find myself in a tempest. Is this storm sent to chasten my disobedience? If so, I can take courage in the fact that He preserved even the recalcitrant Jonah. " The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Hebrews 12:6 His unchangeable character assures me that as He was merciful to Jonah, He will be merciful to me.

On the other hand, I may be walking in 100% obedience to His will and yet experience a tempest. Will I hold onto faith even when Jesus appears to be asleep, unresponsive to my dire need? Or will I capitulate to my fears and encounter the rebuke of Jesus, "How is it that you have no faith?" The very clear choice is fear or faith. They are mutually exclusive.

Jesus may seem slow in arising to the rescue, but better to wait for Him than to mimic Jonah, who was slow to repent. He waited until AFTER the great fish swallowed him before he began to pray. How much wiser to follow the example of the disciples, whose desperate, "Lord, we perish!" awakened the Master to action. 

My heart, let not the noise of the tempest drown out the voice of prayer. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Eleventh-Hour Savior Part II

"Away despair; my gracious Lord doth hear.
Though winds and waves assault my keel,
He doth preserve it: he doth steer,
Ev'n when the boat seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of his art:
Well may he close his eyes, but not his heart."
~George Herbert

Storms may be the "triumph of his [Jesus'] art" but they sure do wreak havoc on mere mortals. Even for the rugged adventurist, a storm is a challenge, forcing him to relinquish his grip on the controls. A storm, like the "great tempest" experienced by Christ's disciples (described in Matthew 8 and Mark 4), reduces even the seasoned and worldly-wise sailors to helplessness, causing them to cry out in desperation, "Lord, save us!" 

Mark's account adds a little reproach along with their plaintive plea for help: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Why is Jesus so maddeningly slow to act? Why is it He waits until the eleventh-hour to arise to their aid?

This question is especially perplexing in light of the fact that the disciples found themselves in this extremity precisely BECAUSE they were following Jesus. In Matthew's account, Jesus had issued the challenge to "Follow me," and the disciples took up that challenge by doing just that: "Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him." Surely their obedience should have merited a safe, smooth passage across the lake?

Instead, their obedience earned them a fight for their life. A great tempest arose and their vessel was swamped. They were sinking fast, while Jesus slept peacefully on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship, the picture of perfect tranquility and apparently oblivious to their epic struggle. 

I can picture the disciples straining at the oars, feverishly bailing the water out of their vessel. They didn't want to awaken Jesus and at first they *thought* they could handle it. They were experienced fishermen, after all! They would prove themselves worthy, prove themselves competent to shuttle Jesus to the other side. Perhaps there was a little pride involved, perhaps they thought, "We can handle this one ourselves, no need to wake the Master." 

At last, having spent every ounce of their strength and exhausting every inner resource, they knew they were licked. Time to admit defeat and awaken Jesus. How could he sleep through such turmoil??

"Lord, save us, we perish!" followed by, "Don't You care that we perish?"

One can feel the desperation in those words, along with a tinge of reproach.

Jesus immediately rises to the need, rebuking the wind and waves and achieving perfect calm at His Word. Then He turns to rebuke the disciples, not for waking Him, but for their fearfulness and lack of faith.

It is an impossibility for a soul to be full of fear and faith at the same time. When one enters, the other must leave. Jesus' rebuke revealed the expectation He held for His disciples: that they would keep hold of their faith even in a tempest. How was this possible for them? How is it possible for me, a disciple of another generation, to maintain faith in the midst of a tempest?

The fact that Jesus expects faith reveals that it MUST be possible to achieve. A careful look at the text gives some clues that help the seeker find the key to success. First, the command of Christ in Mark 5:35 was, "Let us pass over unto the other side." As already noted, the disciples followed that command in obedience. The fact that Jesus used the pronoun "us" indicates that it was clearly His will for the entire crew to pass to the other side. Can anything thwart His will? Can any storm prevent Him from His stated purpose? Of course not, but the disciples had apparently forgotten this Word in the noise of the storm. 

The storm not only caused them to forget His stated purpose, but it also revealed a bit of insecurity, a doubt within their hearts. Did Jesus really care about them? If so, why had He abandoned them to this squall? Their inability to believe that He truly cared for them was a greater breach of faith than their inability to believe He could calm the storm.

And so it is I find myself identifying with the weaknesses of the disciples. Often I have embarked upon a mission, fully knowing that it was a God-ordained assignment. Sure enough, I've encountered tempestuous circumstances in opposition to my work, causing me to focus on the storm and to momentarily forget that my work was commissioned by the Master. Emotions falter, negative thoughts flood into my soul as fast as the water was flooding the disciples' vessel. 

"Jesus, where are You? Why aren't You helping me? Have you left me alone to be destroyed by these adverse circumstances?"

It is said that even steel can withstand only so much pressure, and will break if tempered too long. Disciples are tempered by their experiences, and Jesus knows exactly when we've had enough, exactly how much pressure is too much to bear. At that moment, and not one moment too late, He steps in and calms the storm and stills the tumult. 

The disciples had the advantage of the bodily presence of Jesus, visible to their sight and providing a certain measure of security. I don't have that, but I have something even better. "It is to your advantage that I go away," Jesus tells His disciples, "for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John 16:7

In the midst of the storm, the Helper bears witness with my spirit that I belong to God (Romans 8:16). He calls to my remembrance examples from scripture, like the above story of the calming of the storm, to remind me of His character. By these enablings I can cast out fear--not only the fear of the storm, but the fear of abandonment, of feeling that I am unworthy of His intervention.

Disciples usually don't have any problem believing that God is BIG enough to calm storms, the difficulty lies in believing He wants to do this FOR ME. This is a blatant lack of faith and displays an under-confidence in His love, and it is the thing that warrants a rebuke from Jesus. May God help me to lay hold of this truth: that because I believe in Him I shall not perish in the storm, but He shall delight to rescue me because by His blood I am accepted in the Beloved. 

Rescued, loved, thriving ever after. . . I love happy endings, don't you?