Putting the Pro in Procellous (Sea Change part 7)

“And in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring (gloomy). O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:3)

There’s a species of “procellous” Sea birds that congregate in great numbers during storms, just so you know.

I remember as a kid, scanning the summer sky for any trace of cloud, not wanting my fun and excitement and freedom to be interrupted by rain or storm. My Summers usually went off without a hitch, but life is not necessarily so sunny. Sometimes we need rain. It’s the natural order of things.

“And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand…” (1 Kings 18:44) This verse speaks of Elijah, and his servant’s scouting for rain to allay the severe drought inflicting the whole country.

So, procellous essentially means stormy, though it centers around the sea. The stormy sea, the procellous sea. God is God, and we find this out, whether our life is smooth sailing, or rough waters. Though many people won’t know the depth of God’s love until into their life, a little rain falls. I would have to say that this is mainly the reason that God allows storms in a person’s life. When we see the blue sky cloud over and occlude the sun, what do we do? Do we panic? God forbid it should start raining on our parades and picnics. I’m not trying to sound like a killjoy here, and all I’m using are allusions. Thing is, for ecology to run smoothly, rain is essential. If all we had were days of sunshine and fair skies, we’d eventually starve. Also the natural order of things.

It’s calm in the eye of a storm. Centering ourselves in God’s presence will bring us the peace and ease and hope needed to weather the storms of life. And the best and most efficient way to invite God’s presence into your storm is to worship and praise Him: “But thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3) This might sound like too simplistic a prognosis to shorten our time on the stormy seas, but what else can we do when waiting out the weather?

Another reason God allows storms is for us to experience a touch of the suffering of Jesus. Western mores purport a life devoid of anything untoward and only glassy seas and mellow skies for the duration. This is altogether unlike the life that Jesus told us we’d have upon believing in Him: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Paul listed it as one of the top four desires he had for his life. “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” (Philippians 3:10, emphasis mine) Don’t be afraid when the storms arise.

“The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.” (Nahum 1:3)

So hang in there. Whatever reason there may be (trust me, there is one and it may not be anything you’d expect) for the procellous seas and skies of your life, God delights in giving you the informtion you require. The “treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. (Colossians 2:3, emphasis mine)

“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.” (Isaiah 54:11)

Like sunken treasure!

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Below the Water Line (Sea Change part 6)

“Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known.” (Psalm 77:19)

Who wants to spend all their life landlocked? (I raise my hand) I think there is still more to learn from the sea, however. To what depths must we go in order to learn what God would have us know for our life and the lives of those we’re destined to affect? Theoretically, ideally, we should have obeyed and acknowledged God from the outset and allayed any untoward circumstances. But what about the causes that were out of our hands and before our time that we’re dealing with and struggling to overcome—as individuals, as a generation, a society? God loves us and consequently loves to “shew Himself strong” (2 Chronicles 16:9) through the circumstances and trials in which we find ourselves. What pressures must we experience in order to become adapted–acclimated–to the crushing realities of life without losing our head or imploding (figuratively)? Not a rhetorical question.

As children, all was light and joy. We splashed around on the shore. Even if we had abusive or neglectful (abuse by omission) parent(s), peace of mind and heart was easily found and maintained with whatever we found to occupy ourselves. (for more on this, read this) And as we grew up and the tide of responsibility flowed in, we were swept out to the sea of reality. Real quick, some free association. There’s a crater on the dark side of the moon called “Mare Ingenii” or, “The Sea of Ingenuity”. As the moon affects the tide, the opposite side is looking off into space. Into mystery. Back to Earth.

Not to brag, but on a certain strata of life, I didn’t even discover that there was such a thing as dry land until I was in my late teens. It was as if I had been awakened on the ocean floor where everything was pitch black and the pressure was impossible to overcome on my own. And ever since, I’ve been slowly surfacing–coming up for air. The keyword here is slowly. The body must compensate for the change in pressure as it rises, from diving, to the surface. Surfacing too fast causes decompression sickness, also known as “the bends”. I hear it’s not only excruciatingly painful–it’s also fatal. Take any fish that’s adapted for deepwater conditions up to the surface too quickly and it’ll explode. (Really? Wow!)

With a depth of eleven miles, the Mariana Trench is the deepest known point in the ocean. We couldn’t fathom (no pun intended) the pressure that all that water would bring to bear on us. Nor could we bear up against it. We weren’t designed to live eleven miles beneath the surface of the sea. By the same token, Jesus was so overburdened with the responsibility of giving up His life for the sin of the world that He “sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44). This physiological response is wholly possible when the body is under severe stress. And He was holy, sinless. A moment of silence please. The blood He shed has made it possible for His Father to forgive sin–past, present, future–and heal our lives. And to bring us up to Him.

If, in any atmosphere of your daily life, you find that the pressure is too much to bear, take heart. God does not allow you to experience more than you can handle (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). The word “temptation” in the verse implies “adversity”. And if surfacing seems slow and it’s dark, know that God has reasons which, if we trust Him, He will reveal when we are able to wrap our minds around truths that are deeper than we are.

Hold on to God.

No Man (or Woman) is an Island (Sea Change part 5)

The Hebrides are a group of islands off the north coast of Scotland. The name has nothing to do with “Hebrew”, though you never know. Really, it’s Celtic in origin, from Norse too.

The Old Testament mentions “the isles” many times. It’s referring to Cyprus and the other Mediterranean islands. Symbolically it could mean any group of people who may not have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus gave the great commission: “Go ye into all the world…” (Mark 16:15). This is our responsibility. This is why we have mission trips and missionaries and seminaries. Let’s refocus, however, and think about the stateside mission field for a moment.

One common misconception I often encounter says that people are unapproachable. If I look at someone who seems aloof and focused on something else, then I’m likely to judge them along those lines. What I must be careful of, however, is that my judgment is not “my own insight” as it says in Proverbs (3:5-6). I have thoughts and perceptions and observations just like everybody. And as it says in Hebrews (5:14) my “senses are exercised to discern good and evil”. At least, this is my mission statement. But this doesn’t mean that I’m infallible or perfect in my outlook. Far from it. The moment I “think [I] know any thing” (1 Corinthians 8:2) and don’t “acknowledge God in all my ways” (Proverbs 3:6) is when I’m in pride and left high and dry. Kind of like an island in the sea, hmm? I need God’s “grace and glory” (Psalm 84:11) to interact with people whom the world may have written off as a lost cause, but are inwardly crying out for God knows what. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). The Holy Spirit, too, knows what’s on a person’s heart and mind. And even if you’re not the one who leads someone to Jesus, you will have done your part in helping the Holy Spirit. Do for them whatever he puts on your heart. At least pray for them and lift them up to God. Help to shore up their insecurities and inconsistencies by being kind, direct and genuine. Look in their eyes and touch them if need be. This will do more for someone’s eventual salvation than harshly hitting them over the head with a Gospel message bereft of love.

In closing, I will refer to a prophecy in Isaiah. It says that the “earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9). There’s no reason (to my knowledge) that this prophecy can’t come to pass in our time. No more islands after that!

The Sea of Humanity (Sea Change part 4)

“And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east and His voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with His glory.” (Ezekiel 43:2)

Without a doubt, God speaks through the sea of humanity in which we find ourselves. “The madness of crowds” isn’t entirely inacurate. Look at what Solomon says in Proverbs (18:4): “The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.”

Just because you don’t know, or even like, the person who is speaking to you. Whether it’s a supervisor, a person standing in line, or anyone else who is a complete stranger, God can—and often does—speak through them. Jesus makes an incredibly poignant and pointed statement when He says that “the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). What does this mean? It means that we can learn from everyone. He continues on in the next verse saying, “make unto yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness”. I know He’s talking about dealing wisely with your finances and creditors but let’s look at it from another, broader angle. Paul says (in Romans 12:18) “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men (and women).” This is what Jesus did. He ate with and was friends with “publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). And He won the heart of anyone who was humble and genuine. As we pass through “the paths of the sea” (Psalm 8:8), we need to do as Paul taught in Romans. Live at peace with our neighbors. He says if we do, they will see God. God gives us the privilege and honor of revealing Jesus to the world through our way of life.

The Bible is replete with stories of God using those who didn’t know Him (yet) to bless those who He had chosen to do on earth what needed to be done. Isaiah 45 is God speaking to King Cyrus of Persia. God says in verse four: “For Jacob my servant’s sake…I have even called thee by thy name…though thou hast not known me.” God is not limited in how He can reach us. It’s us who become dull to His voice, thinking that He has to only use our pastor, or anyone else we deem and deign worthy.

“For there is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2:11)

Going back to the sea of humanity. Job says (28:10) that God’s eye “seeth every precious thing.” People are precious. Anyone who has a gift—of wisdom, insight, experience or point of view, should be willing to use it to benefit those who need it. And if we live in humility and selflessness, being willing to learn from anyone God chooses, He will bless and teach us through our neighbors. And everyone’s our neighbor whether they know Jesus or not. This opens up a wonderful opportunity to show the love of God to everyone we meet. Maybe we’ll even get to bring them along with us on our way through the “deep places of the earth” (Psalm 95:4).

LEVIATHAN! (Sea Change part 3)

When God answers Job’s suffering and takes him on a whirlwind tour of the world and the vastness therein (all of which is under God’s command and direction, I might add), He touches briefly (Job ch. 41) on Leviathan, the sea-monster. The word “leviathan” is Hebrew in origin. It sounds the same to us as it did to them and means both “dragon” and “mourning”. Five times in the Bible is leviathan mentioned.

Leviathan is symbolic of the devil. Four of the five biblical references speak to Leviathan as defeated by God. When God tells the serpent in Eden (Genesis 3:15) that “it shall bruise thy head”, He’s speaking of Jesus and how He will eventually defeat the devil. That verse is echoed in Psalm 74 (vs. 14) where it says God “broke the head of leviathan in pieces…”. The point is that leviathan (i.e. the devil) has been soundly defeated by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and subsequent resurrection. So what does this mean for us? Rewind a bit to that part in The Prince of Egypt where the children of Israel are marching across the ocean floor. A brief scene shows a little girl looking up at the massive wall of water as the company of Israelites make their way across the dry seabed. The camera pans back and we see, out of the murky depth, a giant whale swims by, the water made luminous by the Israelites’ torches. Leviathan! It swims by and is gone. And that’s as close as God will let him get to you. “There (in God’s presence) shall no evil befall thee…” (Psalm 91:10)

“And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:15)

What Paul is saying here is that Jesus openly triumphed over the devil and his kingdom. We must enforce the victory however, through prayer, praise and persistence. And by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the Christians in Rome that “the God of peace shall bruise satan under your feet shortly.” (Romans 16:20) God enforces the victory through us. Don’t be fooled or swayed. Stay the course. Remain “sober and vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8). Keep marching.

“Leviathan” appears for the last time in Isaiah 27. The first verse says (prophetically) that God will punish leviathan and “slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Consider this: life was never meant to be a struggle. Life is meant to be enjoyed in fellowship with God as a gift from Him. Whether encountering leviathan, or praying through storms, keep your focus on Jesus and your hand in His and He will get you to the other side of your ocean.

“And God said, let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” (Genesis 1:9)

Surf (Sea Change part 2)

…step into the water…

The Red Sea was split. The greatest obstacle to hinder the Israelites in their exodus (coupled with the threat of the genocidal Egyptians) was rendered an ally through God’s supernatural intervention. The same Red Sea that “let God’s people go” inundated their pursuers. All Moses had to do was step into the water by faith.

Or we could step onto the water?

When Jesus came to His disciples, “walking upon the sea” (Mark 6:48), they were terrified. They certainly had to have heard the story of the Israelites walking through the ocean, but this! This was new. And also just as impossible, I might add. Peter had the guts to attempt the same as Jesus. He called out to Jesus (Matthew 14:28) and asked if he could walk out to Him—on the water. Jesus agreed and so Peter came. One look at the wind-whipped waves (Matthew 14:30), and Peter began to sink like the stone from which his namesake sprung. Jesus wasn’t about to let him drown, so He pulled him up and they both came into the ship. They continued sailing through calm waters to Gennesaret, their original destination (Mark 6:53).

A passage from Psalm 107 (23-31) describes the long plight of the seafarer. It’s similar in tone to the surf and squall that Jesus’ disciples encountered on the Sea of Galilee: Through the wind and waves, the sailors’ hopes are raised and dashed in an indeterminate period of suffering that only God can get them through to “bring them unto their desired haven” (107:30). When you set out to attain any challenge worth its salt(water), you’re sure to encounter storms. You might have to steer by starlight and it could take weeks, months or even years to reach your “desired haven”. God is faithful though, “who will not suffer (allow) you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And as you stay the course—acknowledging Him to the best of your ability, He’ll bring you along by the wind of His Spirit. Cry unto Him in your distresses as did Peter and the sailors from the Psalm. He’ll never let you go. James says that through powerful, or “fierce” winds, the ship you’re in will turn at the slightest whisper (James 3:4). Call out to God in your distress.

Psalm 65 (verse 5) says that God is the “confidence of all the ends of the earth and of them that are afar off upon the sea.”

Jesus walked upon the stormy seas on which we find ourselves. Whether you’re on the surf above or the sand (turf) beneath the sea, never let go of His hand in your pursuit of safe harbor or the dream He’s put in your heart.

Turf (Sea Change part 1)

When you read the Bible do you think of landlocked deserts and a parched wilderness of suffering surrounding each city and story? There is a lot of that, to be sure. The sea makes an appearance every so often, though Let’s look at the sea. As habitat and as metaphor.

The Red Sea

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost

When Pharaoh and his army chased the children of Israel down to the waters edge, God told Moses to “lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it”. (Exodus 14:16). Even then, it had to be an exhilarating, if terrifying experience. The Israelites then continued their journey out of captivity, through the bottom of the Red Sea and walked across like it was “dry land” (Exodus 14:21)

“He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in Him” (Psalm 66:6).

Just a thought, but if we’re marching through a seeming desert, how do we know that we’re not making our way across a former ocean whose walls the Lord has graciously cleft and led us within in order to teach us something we wouldn’t otherwise learn or know?

The scene from the animated movie “The Prince of Egypt” renders the escape from Pharaoh in breathtaking detail. Metaphorically, God will do the same for us. Our sea of circumstances, if need be, will be halved by God so that you can follow Him across. Psalms (77:19) says that God’s “way is in the sea and Thy path in the great waters and Thy footsteps are not known”. Sometimes that’s the only way to go. God wants you to follow Him where others have feared to tread. Don’t be afraid. Take His hand. Step in the water.

“For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” (Isaiah 41:13)