Sunday, September 11, 2011

Feel the Bubbles

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.17.11

We, as Christians, talk quite a bit about having faith.  It’s one of those things that is kind of hard to explain to someone who considers himself (or herself) a “non-believer.”  Faith is a word that really isn't explainable, kind of like “Gesundheit” or “Fahrfugnugen.”  If you speak German, you understand what those words mean, but it’s really difficult to translate them to someone who doesn't speak German.

Some folks describe faith as the same as belief.  The problem is, beliefs can change.  As children many of us believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and just as many of us, no longer believe in those things.  Belief cannot often stand up to uncertainty, while faith does.

At the same time, faith is not the same as blindly following and just accepting what someone tells you.  There is room for questioning and fact-checking in faith. It seems, then, that people who live by faith, often have to put up with some uncertainty, and that is often uncomfortable.

Look at the early Christians.  First, their belief that Jesus was the Messiah had to become faith because everything they could see and hear pointed to Jesus being dead.  Once they’d gotten past that hurdle, people started arresting the disciples, throwing them into prison and pretty much anything else unpleasant these folk could think of to get the disciples to quit talking about this crazy new religion.  I don’t think just believing that Jesus was a great guy would have done the early church members much good.  They had to have real faith the Holy Spirit would be right there with them as they experienced the things they did.

One of the most amazing things to me is that, not only did the faith of the early Christians hold, they were able to praise God along the way.  I have to admit, I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but doesn’t asking, “why me?” end my worshipping?  Or is there a way to continue worshipping while questioning?

Elizabeth Elliot was a missionary whose husband, Jim Elliott was killed by the Indians he was trying to be a missionary to.  She has asked that same question along the way.  Here’s her take on it:
“It is always best to go first for our answers to Jesus himself. He cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It was a human cry, a cry of desperation, springing from his heart's agony at the prospect of being put into the hands of wicked men and actually becoming sin for you and me. We can never suffer anything like that, yet we do at times feel forsaken and cry, ‘Why, Lord?’
“The psalmist asked why. Job, a blameless man, suffering horrible torments on an ash heap, asked why. It does not seem to me to be sinful to ask the question. What is sinful is resentment against God and his dealings with us.”[1]
In some ways, our uncertainty could help us become closer to God.
“Drawing on the Jewish tradition of exploring God by intense study of the Scriptures, author Rob Bell points out that ‘the rabbis even say a specific blessing when they don’t understand a portion of the text. When it eludes them, when it makes no sense, they say a word of thanks to God because of the blessing that will be theirs someday. “Thank you, God, that at some point in the future, the lights are going to come on for me.”’—Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Zondervan, 2005), pp. 68, 69. Approached in this way, what we don’t know or understand can actually be a trigger for worship.”[2]
Okay, that may be going a little too far.  I can see having faith when I don’t understand, but worshipping too?  That could be tougher.  What do you think? 

Isn't it when we can’t see what’s up ahead that we hold on even more tightly to the person who knows where he’s going?  God promises that He will guide us, even (or especially) when we don’t know the way.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,  along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”  Isaiah 42:16
That is an amazing promise, isn’t it?  I mean, even if we don’t know anything else, we know that God promised to lead us where He wants us to be, and we can worship Him for that.

In Christian Reader, Lindy Warren quotes Steven Curtis Chapman:
“I have learned that we can control where we allow things that we can't understand to fall. They either fall between us and God, and we become angry. Or we allow these things to fall outside of us and press us in closer to God.”[3]
Where would you rather be when the tough times fall?  I know where I want to be.
“I have never been scuba diving, but I'm told that it's a blast. Strapping on those life tanks and exploring the water world below sounds like fun. I had a conversation once with a former navy diver about diving deep—really deep.
“He told me that he had been in situations so deep and dark that it was almost impossible to keep from becoming disoriented and confused. What a terrifying feeling—being under water, unable to see your hands in front of your face, not knowing which way is up, panic engulfing you. I immediately interrupted my friend, ‘So what did you do?’
“‘Feel the bubbles,’ he said.
“‘Feel the bubbles?’ I asked.
“‘That's right. When it's pitch black and you have no idea which way to go, you reach up with your hand and feel the bubbles. The bubbles always drift to the surface. When you can't trust your feelings or judgment, you can always trust the bubbles to get you back to the top.’
“[As Christians] we need a way to determine what is real and true. Sometimes in life we get disoriented and desperate. At other times, we find ourselves drifting aimlessly. God knew that we would need advice and instructions about how to live. In the 66 books of the Bible we have a reality library—stories, letters, guidelines, and examples from God that tell us what is true and real.”[4]
Learning to worship, praise and feel the Holy Spirit even when we don’t know where God is leading us and don’t understand why He wants us to go there, is like relaxing and feeling the bubbles—letting the Holy Spirit guide us.

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart (Vine Books, 1995)
[2] Nathan Brown, “Worship in the Early Church,” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide
[3]Lindy Warren, "Steven Curtis Chapman's Silent Nights," Christian Reader (March/April 2002), p. 59
[4] Terry Carter, Scott Duvall, and Daniel Hays, Preaching God's Word (Zondervan, 2005), p. 41-42

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