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New Year 2011
GOING DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS, TO STORMS, NON-NORMS
DESPERATE STRAITS AND DIVINE DEALINGS
There is something about going down to the sea in ships, the famous beginning of one of the encounters in Psalm 107, which is glorious in its coverage of human distress situations, and divine answers, which is refreshing, alerting. It contains a sense of adventure, and when you add, with Psalm 107:23, "those who go down to the sea in ships", this - "who do business in great waters," already the sense of the impending, with us the New Year 2011, is with us.
The sense not only of vast skyscapes, but oceanic calms, contortions, shriekings, ascents to the heights of 70 or more feet in vast billowing or even storming waters, freak waves several times above what is normally known, darknesses and stills, serene quietness of continual passage and skiing down enormous monsters who slip and slide and slither sideways and erupt unexpectedly, the awareness of the maritime dimension, in claims, its mastery and attempts to master it: it is awesome, challenging, threatening, enticing, uplifting, all at once.
Sir Francis Chichester wrote in gruesome detail about his world-famous and much followed single-handed voyage around the world, before this became so popular. He was not Sir Francis when he began, but shortly after his return. At that point, he was met by a Navy vessel which fired a formal, multiple salute, and he wondered how many single-handed navigators had received such a formal accolade. It seems that no small part of his achievement was not the many records which he broke for a small ship, for a single-handed yachting expedition, for speed for such a case, for covering set distance and so forth, but the sheer, rugged determination. Thus after making a record in his time from England to Sydney, he was challenged by many NOT to go on, not to seek to complete a round-the-world extravaganza, being told of terrible sea conditions to come on the way, or of the pounding in the rounding the Horn at the base of South America. His physical condition was far from perfect, and would become worse.
Yet despite all this, he utterly insisted. He had borne much; he would bear more. His determination would not stop at death or disablement. His craft was greatly improved while he waited a few days in Sydney, by famous builders, and with his dream, his resolution, his insistence, he set off. Once his mast went under to an enormous degree, in a vast roiling mass of waters, but it did not break. Bone chips came to lodge from a large impact, near his elbow, and oozings from it made testimony to his condition; yet through horrendous seas, he managed, to arrive to a hero's welcome in England. He had done what drew him, conquered what nearly killed him, had abashed him but did not deter him, and in the most uneven contest, he was victor. England saluted him, and his name rocketed at that time, to great fame.
What then ? Resolution, determination, the militancy of a vision, the ready bearing with breaches of almost all expected norms, opportunity to disengage, met with iron insistence, these things in the midst of the awesomely great ocean experiences, the ocean itself a vast array of sometimes enticing, sometimes devastating powers; and these things drew admiration. It is not to be regarded as oddball, eccentric, faddish; but grand...
In the Christian life, it is much the same in SCOPE. That is, you have the awesome power of God, rather than mere oceans, His majesty, His conditions, His will, direction, work for your life, challenges to your complacency, persistence in ventures and adventures for you, not for your excitement or your self-fulfilment, but for His kingdom. It is so much more challenging than was the sea to Sir Francis. HIS desire is ALSO in some ways an unknown. He may reveal more of it as you go. It is not EVEN your own design, known, neat and tucked away in your heart. Instead, glorious, grand and awesome, the Lord Himself is settled in the place of power in your heart, for as a Christian (and it is this which we discuss), that is where you are found, occupied by your Maker, subject to your Lord (Luke 6:46).
It has this comfort, that He KNOWS you and the world and the enemies and the conditions, and will not test you beyond what you are able to bear (I Cor. 10:13). But it is far more than oceans that you will have to bear. It is smouldering hatreds, vicious counter-enterprises skilfully wrought, traitors who wave the Christian flag but are as little subject to the direction of the Saviour as is any yachtsman who is merely fulfilling his own dream. You must also meet divine discipline when you err, and being willing, ask the Lord to "try me and see if there be any wicked way within me" - Psalm 107:21. Indeed, the divine investigation goes deeper, for he says, "Search me and try me and know my heart ..." before coming to the liability for any wickedness, and actively seeking its detection and expulsion. Then it is no longer there for human impulsion, and tragedy may be avoided.
The old round of phrase, when someone is asked a deeper question, was this: "Search me! I don't know ..."
Here the searching is not just by circumstances, when often the Christian is odd-balled as one who knows God when it is the social norm, even if you must be religious, NOT to know, just to be traditional or excited or whatever else appeals, and to keep it to yourself, and if it be touched on (as it were, accidentally) to have a becoming sense of modesty, saying, "Of course, this is just the way I feel, I fully recognise that many ... " etc., etc..
THAT is nothing to do with being a Christian, being a disjunction from the divine, a human moth circling around a light, not wanting to tell how the flame attracts, but joined with others who find the same flame nice, and so making a church in this case. This IS being ashamed of Christ, and that is excluded from the kingdom of heaven, as from the lips of Christ in Luke 9:26. Ashamed of Him ? then He will be ashamed of you, before His Father in heaven and the angels.
Is a man who wants to circle the globe in a small yacht to have iron resolution, and those who know God to lack it ? Is he willing to risk his life perhaps scores of times, in enthralling and horrendous circumstances, because of a dream, a desire, a governing grit and vision, and those who know God to find it inconvenient to do more! More ? Yes, for these oceans are not so charted, nor are all the rocks known; and many of them are vast, and suddenly impose themselves, while treachery is not just of waves that deceive because one is too ignorant and the topic too vast for total comprehension, but of people who, hypocrites (self-confessed or merely confused), betray you in the midst of storms, speak evil of you, set you at nought, try to derail you as you approach the waters.
How inventive is the human heart, and you may meet hundreds who are worse than any gales! Moreover, you are not permitted to answer hate with hate, cursing with cursing, but required to love your enemies. This of course does not mean, to take the yachting analogy, that you try to give the wave every opportunity to dismast you; but that you have the good of those misled, in heart even while you resist them and if necessary expose them, seeking construction of good in them, rather than mere constriction merely of evil.
How then would anyone ever come to such a plight! How could any sane person SEEK and voluntarily opt for a life in which, "I am crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20) becomes one of the enticements! Who wants crucifixion ? What is this, a droll delusion ?
Not at all. As the tinsel and the glamour depart, we have found war upon war, evil within evil, schemings and deviousness of man and his governments becoming yet more apparent in the last 100 years, with millions dying aghast and obliterated, lying over the years in trenches, or put in cages, or made to die slowly building railways, or drugged and assaulted in mind, or taken like cattle by a particularly devilish drover, to the abattoirs, even by the millions, while others seek to exterminate any stragglers, as in the Jewish case, killing what they can of the survivors who were given a safe place called Palestine, which is now being seductively taken, bit by bit from their industrious and nation-making hands, and bombarded, while nations bombard it in the meantime with words of reviling as well. Such is too typical of the undying fires of reckless wickedness which fills nation after nation, seeking independence, as in South Africa, now openly inviting Communist agitators, and siding with North Korea in its atomic threats, and nation-starving rhetoric.
Such is the state of man that it is manifest that either he finds God or God finds him out. Times of 'advance forever' enthusiasm look sicker than Africa, more ludicrous than the boasting of North Korea, the tirades of Iran, the multiply devious forces at work within Afghanistan and Pakistan, the latter well equipped with power to devastate millions, some at once, some in a slower and more prolonged process, should any religious imperialism so move it. You can have polonium in you tea, or serve sentence in uranium works!
Meanwhile, masses are inveterately set on not finding God, resolute in determination, seeking to destroy liberty, as in the Australian net-filtering fiasco, which may yet become law, denying freedom of speech in the ludicrous extravaganzas of protecting the young, as if you have to kill a sheep when it has foot-rot, rather than attend to the exact spot in question with skill; or insisting on arrangements which make it a crime to upset anyone, though it has not yet reached the point of having doctors put in prison for telling the truth to a sensitive patient, who prefers to die slowly in anguish, to even knowing what is the matter.
Those who understand all but nothing of the forces at work, want to hush those who refer to the Maker, His demonstrably true word (cf. SMR, TMR), as they have done from the earlier days of the Roman Empire to the present, whether through Islamic invasion of Europe, which nearly succeeded in the 8th century AD, through Romanist Inquisition, which may have accounted for millions (cf. Ancient Words ... Ch. 14), leaving masses orphans, and more millions within the grasp of those who dispossessed the former owners both of life and of property, ghoulish in horror - or though the crushing, depersonalised folly of Communism.
Forces both religious and irreligious storm, and confused parties imagine that some medley called 'Christianity' has been responsible for the Inquisition, when in fact it was the biblically Christian body, who would add nothing to the word of God as defined by the Church, who were major victims of that assault. Force is forbidden for the pursuit of Christ, in John 18:36 and Matthew 26:52-56: so that this has been, is and will be thrust on the Christians. They are as lambs to the slaughter; and this is part of being crucified with Christ. You have to get on with the business of sailing not around the world, but into deep waters, fearless and faithful, so that some at least may be saved from the torments of untruth and the destiny of damnation (John 3:36).
You may be hanged, poisoned, slandered, slaughtered, libelled, impaled, segregated, your house or church burnt as in India, simply slain as in some Islamic countries. People may try to take over your country and remove freedom so that you may be quietened, and some may co-operate with them in the hope that this is what will occur. Children may be torn from you, as in the Sudan, and myths made about you; but you bear and forbear and proceed in Christ with the offer of peace in the heart, which is the path to peace elsewhere, and the result of the presence of Him who having made us, knows how to remove the madness that currently embroils the nations.
The call is not to circle the globe, but to rescue many from its waves, before they drown in unbelief, anaesthetised by cultural propaganda, some indeed, even all but deifying their own ways - calling them 'culture' and then 'sacred' as if to make of themselves or of others, VIRTUAL GODS. This is mere offence against the One who is God, and increases the towering waves that smash on the sandstone rocks of human civilisation. The call is to preach the Gospel and teach ALL the commandments. Many a huge smashing wave lands on the Church of God, as some remove some commandments, like those who take off part of the keel of your yacht, in the midst of a storm. Treachery is common, truth is not prized, and indeed as Isaiah 59:14 declares:
"Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off;
for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
So truth fails and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey."
If this has horror, how much more is the judgment to come! If now, in this yachting adventure with Christ, the waves "mount to the heavens" and "their soul melts because of trouble," and if now "they reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end," how much more when the non-gallant life which derides or departs from the God of creation and truth, meets the storm of justice, of due judgment, and how much more must the Christian faithfully present the remedy, even if called a tormentor, or like Elijah, a trouble-maker, even if excommunicated by this or that falling body, unwilling to face its own treachery, like that of Judas put in modern dress!
It is in this sense that the Christian has to be crucified with Christ: resolute as one dead to diversion, intent as one whose gaze is transfixed on the beauty of holiness, gracious amid hatred, gallant amid treachery, calling on the Lord in all dramas, and seeking only for His glory and will and the fulfilment of His Gospel commission, knowing there is no other hope for any, however drugged they may be, and however imperiously dissident. As in Ephesians 6:13-14, we find this challenge:
"that you may be able to withstand in the evil day,
and having done all, to stand.
If then a far greater challenge than could ever face a yachtsman meets the Christian, with far more variables, and a more personal and devilish opposition, often inflamed with hatred and multiple resources deviously invented to decry and defy the Gospel of the grace of God, to torment its words and try to make them mean something entirely different, what is he to do ?
It is as in Psalm 107:28-32. They
"cry out to the LORD in their trouble,
and He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm ..."
If great is the enemy of souls, great in number are his assistants, vast is the chasm as the depths seem to climb up to overwhelm one's boat, yet greater is the Lord of creation, who has made not only ocean but man. Calling upon Him, as one has found multiply, does NOT ensure an end to suffering, but it stills the storm, overcomes the resistance WHERE and WHEN this is preventing the work from continuing, which He has set for one to do, so that as in Psalm 107, "He guides them to their desired haven." And what is desired by the Christian ? Not a peaceable home, a nice income and a boat if possible, but to serve God with enthusiasm, to love Him with fervour, to know Him with reality and to find a way to serve Him with His own help at one's side, finding the lost, serving the body of Christ for, in and because of the Head, Jesus Christ Himself.
As David put it, ONE THING "have I desired of the Lord and that will I seek after ..."(Psalm 27). And that ? It is this: "that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in His temple." Then the Lord at length, Psalm 107:30, "guides them to their desired haven." Oh that men would praise and thank the Lord for His deliverances! cries the Psalmist. Ah that they would! A different world would come; and it will, when He has finished His tests and declarations in this; and that day draws ever nearer (Answers to Questions Ch. 5). In Christ is the relish, to Him is the reason, from Him is the resolution! Praise God, it works.
He will hide His people and set them upon a Rock, not of sinners and their traditions, but Himself, unshakeable, more resolute than resolution itself, not a dream of one's own heart but the gleam of His grace, the grandeur of His glory and His truth with His commission, to keep it unsoiled, as Paul said to Timothy (I Timothy. 6:14),
"that you keep this commandment without spot,
blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing,
which He will manifest in His time,
He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords..."
His grandeur surpasses all oceans, since He made them, and His power all challenges, since He has created man and the antidote to sin, in the blood of the Cross, triumphing over death, a passing event for the Christian, whose mooring place is sure, knowing that
"the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom."
"To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen!"