Bilbo Baggins makes a decision

As one of those who watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey within the first 24 hours of its release in Canada, I can say that I enjoyed it.

The following concerns one of the most chilling moments of The Hobbit for me, though it’s probably not what you would typically consider a chilling moment. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, although if you’re against watching trailers, this does reference content in the trailer.

You can watch a snippet from 2:00 in this trailer if you wish, just of the exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf.

Bilbo Gandalf

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
[Click image for original website.]

Like Bilbo, I want that assurance of familiarity. Gandalf’s words that you and others will not be the same are almost like a nightmare.

Bilbo Baggins’ fear of change and strangers and uncertainty, his apprehension at leaving all that he knows and loves and values, and his reluctance to dive into a life-changing adventure are all things that I, at the depths of my play-it-safe nature, very much identify with.

This fear is one of the huge challenges for humanity, as expressed in so many of the stories in our culture: letting go of what could have been for what could be.

Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire for the Fellowship of the Ring.

Jay Gatsby refusing to let go of his ideal of Daisy.

Daisy Buchanan pursuing her ideal of love. (Funny how ideal is not far from the spelling of idol.)

Simba leaving his desert oasis paradise to challenge Scar on Pride Rock.

Spiderman taking on his burden of  great responsibility that comes with great power.

The twelve disciples answering Jesus’ call to follow him.

Again and again, we are shown that the world is not static, and that we must adapt as life happens, but we don’t always respond favourably. Most of us are control freaks, in the sense that if things are out of control and beyond our zone of comfort, we freak out. The thing is, if we see what we are as fine-and-dandy, we will abhor change; if we have a healthy discontent that recognizes how we could be changed for the better, we would be more open to change, in reasonable proportions. (I’m not talking complete overhaul for no reason.)

Now, I know my resolution to this fear, and it is something I remind myself of all the time. Yet this is a recurring concern that comes back to taunt me, in case I can be hoodwinked to forget the source of my confidence, so then I fend it off with my sword. I shall leave this post unresolved.

Advertisements

At a time most insecure…

And what time would that be? When did I feel like everything that was my responsibility was way beyond my ability? Why during my first practice teaching placement of teacher’s college of course. I could hardly process the fact that I had signed myself up for this public performance in front of teenagers, having written a blurb to convince the university to select me for it. pffft.

In my few weeks there, I think I must have arrived at that high school every day before 95% of the teachers there. Somehow, it seemed like arriving impeccably early had to work in my favour somehow, and I’d take anything that would improve the odds of my emotional survival through the possibility of looking intellectually, socially, and/or fashionably stupid. In any case, the sun was barely up when I sat in the teachers’ lounge quietly panicking and trying to recite this psalm to myself and believe it true. Every day God showed that he had faithfully prepared details and prepared me both beforehand and on that day, but every morning I would still panic like a silly sitcom replay. Then this psalm would knock the sillies out long enough to remind me that all these me-focused worries were futile. Consider what is important. Consider what is true, it seems to whisper.

After all, with this type of wording, I’ll bet it’s been confronting the wild insecurities of God’s children since hundreds of years B.C., and shall continue to do so.

My Soul Waits for God Alone

To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

[62:1] For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
[2] He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
[3] How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
[4] They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.                      Selah
[5] For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
[6] He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
[7] On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
[8] Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.                     Selah
[9] Those of low estate are but a breath;
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
[10] Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
[11] Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
[12] and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work.
(Psalm 62 ESV)

Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. (Hebrews 11, the list of the faithful.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

First of all, thank goodness the people included in this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are flawed to various degrees, just like I am! When I was younger, I used to mistakenly imagine Christians of the past in heaven looking down at me disapprovingly and being disappointed/disgusted – not to mention Jesus or God’s perspective. (Couldn’t even bring myself there.) That sort of watchful ‘accountability’ is terribly disheartening, and resulted in my greatly desiring to let no one get to know me, lest they discover what all these heavenly witnesses knew better. Nevertheless, I know better now: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is my identity, as with all of those in that cloud of witnesses. None of us could stand before God but for Christ, even if some appear somewhat more righteous than others. (Truthfully though, it also helped my acceptance of this truth to discover how others too were more sinful than I had first assumed, and that I wasn’t too sinful to be forgiven, or too damaged to be made new. Due to the helpfulness of this discovery for myself in making my acceptance of salvation in Christ a joyful thing, it has since been a personal conviction to freely share my dirt as is appropriate to the situation, but regardless of my own discomfort.)

Returning to that verse in Hebrews, the ESV Bible mentions “weight” rather than things that hinder, and the New KJV uses “ensnares” to describe sin rather than entangling. A snare, being a trap, is more active than the action of entangling, which seems more passive. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we are bound and held captive by sin. Kinda like a slave. Last summer I received a copy of Slave by John MacArthur which I will finish this summer. (On my word, I shall!) It emphasizes the very Biblical but unsung idea of switching loyalties from being a slave to sin to being a slave of the Lord Jesus, and how this second ‘slavery’ is, in actual fact, freedom from sin and the various burdens of a sinful nature.

Recently, at a women’s retreat, I’ve been privileged to be read a list of hindrances by which we may be trapped, and these made me sit up and pay rapt attention.

Hindrances:

  • self-preoccupation
  • false accusations
  • worry and fear
  • bitterness
  • unforgiveness
  • pain of past and present hurts
  • circumstances (health, physical limitations, finances, jobs…)
This made me sit up because as a Christian, I tend to unthinkingly categorize everything negative as sin when not every burden is technically sin, even if it resulted from sin or could result in sin in some way. The point is, though, that both burdens and sin are debilitating to our ability to run the race, to be a new creation, to have the courage to go and be a witness, to rejoice and to worship. Burdens are a yoke of slavery that prevents us from living as those who have been freed.

Anyhow, imagine a hot air balloon, the pictorial theme of the retreat weekend. Being tethered to the ground prevents it from soaring, but soaring willy-nilly is dangerous. Like us, when the balloon is tethered to Christ as a guide, then it can soar freely in safety.

But I don’t always feel like I soar, or am safe!

Where is Christ then? And there, something that John Piper said brought comfort: One of the greatest heartaches of the Christian walk is our slowness to change.

Didn’t Jesus wash me clean? Aren’t I free now? That certainly is a heartache of mine.

The following verse is so wonderful I’ll state it twice, in different versions:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

I promised spectacular grammar in the title of this post, and there it is. That Jesus “has made perfect” is stated in present perfect tense, which deals with a past event that has present relevance. (E.g. “I have lived in Vancouver.” I can call myself a West Coaster, but Eastern Canada is my home now.) On the other hand, “those who are being made holy” is in present continuous tense, which deals with events that are in progress now and will be in progress for an unspecified time yet. These two different time tenses happen in unison. Perfect. Holy. Finished and still in progress.

The good news, as I was reminded that weekend, is that “being on the way is proof that we have arrived.” Are we there yet? No, but yes. So keep going, whether the way is slow, tortuous, or quite circular at times. Take heart in the good news of the gospel of grace, and our sanctification that follows. “Our fight against sin is not simply to become perfect, but because we are.”

The funny thing is, when we are weak and struggling through little fault of our own, it is easy to turn to God and rely on Him. In stark contrast, when it is our folly, our lack of self control, our empty purpose, our pig-headed stubbornness, our self reliance, our apathy, our resentfulness, our bitterness, our unwillingness to forgive or anything else like that which has caused us to stumble, struggle and be faint, or even caused others to be hurt, it is harder to rely on God. “Do I have a right to?” subtly comes to mind.

Yes. Most assuredly so. You didn’t earn the right, but Jesus earned it for us, and at this time, you need to rely on the one who sanctifies us. You just gotta suck in your pride and look upon glorious, undeserved grace.

My favourite image from that hot air balloon themed retreat was that of the fire in the burners. In those times of fire and trial, our dependence on and closeness with Christ in the uncomfortable environment of hot air gives us lift to soar that a mild and cool environment does not. It’s like the special treat of trials, almost like a consolation prize, except that it’s much more, and conversely, is really the point of the trial, I would say. It’s hard to complain about difficulties when you see that God is bringing you closer to Himself through these things.

One last scribble that I took from just the first talk of the retreat: Living for Christ – waiting for our emotions to catch up.

Doing Hard Things

In the second year of university, I decided I would begin to try doing hard things.  The reason was relatively simple: prior to that I really wanted to succeed in anything I attempted. It’s an obligation to get a job well done, to pull something off. In saying that, I don’t mean that I was successful at a whole lot, just that if I didn’t succeed, I would try not to think about it and either not tell anyone or make like I thought it was funny and that I didn’t care if I did talk about it.

Now, this next paragraph is not going to be me saying that I’ve now overcome that anxiety to perform because I’ve placed my trust in Christ. Hah, wouldn’t that be easy? In truth, I have placed my trust in Christ, but it is still hard to do hard things. That will not go away while I still walk this ground and breath this air. But these truths are the silicone oven mitts to the searing flames of anxiety:

1 Kings 2:1-3

1 As the time approached for David to die, he instructed his son Solomon, 2 “As for me, I am going the way of all of the earth. Be strong and be courageous like a man, 3 and keep your obligation to the Lord your God to walk in His ways and to keep His statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees. This is written in the law of Moses, so that you will have success in everything you do…

Deuteronomy 5:29

If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands always, so that they and their children will prosper forever.

Isaiah 45:7

I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

In the face, body, and internal heat of difficult situations, we are not asked to overcome and succeed. Our obligation is to fear the Lord and keep His commands; He makes success and disaster. It may even be disaster after disaster that comes first however well you carry out your obligation to obey.

2 Timothy 4:5-8

5 But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only tome, but to all those who have loved His appearing.

This too is Paul’s attitude. Keeping the faith. It is the name of a strange Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman movie in which the characters don’t keep the faith; hence, more so, keeping the faith means what it did in the OT. Our obligation is to trust in the gospel and to attest to the truth of the gospel. To know the greatness of God and make his greatness known. The hard thing in this is … you don’t want to be anywhere near greatness or mention greatness when you feel small.

Good grief. A poor excuse not to try doing things.

You search much deeper within…

Here’s a question I wondered. (Still a little taken by it)

Why did God almost smite Jerusalem because David wanted to count his army?
[ref 1 Chronicles 21]

Counting your army is not an evil and dastardly deed.

With David, the issue of this particular order must then be the motivation behind it. Thinking back, the Lord gave him victory after victory even while he was friendless and running for his life. If he fears not having enough men, he has fallen far in trusting the Lord. Be that as it may, it doesn’t sound like Israel is in danger right before this happens because the narrative still shows David on a roll of victory. The alternative is that David is just feeling a little smug about his army and would like to know exactly how many men he commands.

The text in this immediate section does not make it explicit what the reason is: we only see David’s commander Joab being repulsed by the order, David then confessing that he has sinned greatly by this, and God giving David some extremely tough ultimatums. However, later in 1 Chronicles when David addresses his heir, Solomon, he says something that signals the heart-issue as an accurate interpretation:

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. – 1 Chronicles 28:9 (ESV)

I cannot help but see David giving this section of advice from past experience! He learned the hard way about acting out a plan that was hatched from thoughts and motivations evil in the Lord’s sight. Self-centered in pride or in fear.

Other scriptures like the famous Romans 12:1-2 make it clear too that a person’s way of thinking (our mind, a part of which actually is the ‘heart’ we commonly refer to) must not be shaped by the world’s ways but be transformed to God’s will.

With that, I feel like I want to type out David’s Prayer word by word (as opposed to copy+pasting it) from 1 Chronicles 29:10-18 (NIV)

… Praise be to you, O LORD,
God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honour come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.

[Note: The title of this post is a quote from the song ‘The Heart of Worship’ in case you wondered why it was so familiar.]

More from Exodus

Done Exodus! Next phase: Judges and James. Here are some notes I quickly typed as I was reading.

Idols: the things you cherish in your heart.

“I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god!” -Exodus 20:5 NLT

Let’s throw this thought out there. Replace silver and gold (what you’re not supposed to make idols out of) with ‘things precious to you’ in Exodus 20:23.

Remember, you must not make or worship idols of [things precious to you]. (NLT)

Fear connotates respect; fear is different from being afraid. Being afraid is to do with outlook while fear is to do with attitude.

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” -Exodus 20:20 NIV

Something to think about regarding God’s view of death caused by man: it shows the heart behind Jesus’ explanation in the Gospel of Matthew about God’s commandment against murder. In the law quoted in Exodus, accidental killing that God allows to happen is not punished with death. The intent to injure (and the link to anger as producing that intent) appears important. Think about intent and motivation to end life regarding abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. In particular, this article from the Weekly Standard brings up abortion workers who are beginning to see their work of ending life as “unbearable.”

Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. (Exodus 21:12-14)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

God is very fair: the rich cannot buy his justice off, and the poor cannot avoid paying their dues either. Exodus 30:15, Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:34

Coming next… a search of “Sabbath” and “rest” in Exodus.

Thoughts on Exodus

Here are some mental links:

Passover — ‘ready to travel’ — just the sandals on your feet — ‘strangers in the world’ — eat all of the lamb or burn it don’t pack it for later — yeastless dough — Pharisees are yeast

God sometimes leads the indirect but better route (13:17) — Paul’s journeys — salvation not mechanization

Crossing the Read Sea is like:

a) moving to a new stage of life
b) starting at a new school/job
c) doing something you’ve never done before
d) asking God for something you believe he wants you to ask, but not getting it
e) being pushed to drastic situations by uncontrollable circumstances
f) diving
g) any other example you can come up with

Dead Sea (not Red Sea, but geographically close)

As you face the waters...

At the Red Sea… [insert trouble here]

As [Pharoah] approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were [the Egyptians] marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were [no graves in Egypt] that you brought us to [the desert to die]? What have you done to us by bringing us out of [Egypt]? Didn’t we say to you in [Egypt], ‘Leave us alone; let us [serve the Egyptians]’? It would have been better for us to [serve the Egyptians] than to [die in the desert]!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The [Egyptians] you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” — Exodus 14:10-14

When you begin to panic, do not be afraid. This comes up a lot in the Bible. My conclusion (from reading this and personal experience) is that we are ‘afraid’ a lot; most often we’re not scared-afraid so much as worried/bitter/discontent-afraid.