Posted by: mstephens86 | February 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Exodus

As promised, here’s a couple thoughts on some Exodus for you all.  Please excuse the random tangents and enjoy!

Over the past few days I was thinking about the Israelites following Moses to the Promised Land.  I’m in Numbers right now which tells how they arrived at the Promised Land after many hardships.  Moses sent 12 scouts out across the land to report on the strength of the people there and the quality of their crops so that they would know what was in store for them (chapter 13).  The scouts brought back fruit from the land, huge grapes that showed how good the land was, and they told about how it flowed with milk and honey.  However, they also told of the giants in the land that would have to be fought in order to occupy it.

 

Naturally the Israelis where afraid and spoke against Moses for bringing them all this way just to be killed in battle.  Moses and two of the scouts begged the people to trust that God would win this fight for them and to go forward into the land that was set aside for them (14:6-9).  They said that God would not abandon them after seeing them through so many hardships, but it was no use.  Fear ruled against faith that day because the obstacles seemed to be too great.

God was angry at this lack of faith, and in a very Old-Testament way he killed the 10 scouts that spoke against the Land, and sentenced the Israelites to 40 additional years of wandering in the wilderness so that the current generation would never see the Promised Land.  Only once they were all dead would their children be allowed into the Land.  After hearing this, the Israelites tried to force their way into the Land on their own, but were completely defeated in battle without God on their side.  So long story short, as I’m sure you know, off they go to 40 additional years of pain and suffering.

Reading this Exodus story, I couldn’t help but realize how well it describes our present experience in our journey as Christians – our Exodus from the slavery of sin to the perfect freedom of our Life in God!  There is suffering and hardship on this journey though the wilderness of hunger and fear.  Countless times the Israelis complained about how they were better off in Egypt than in the wilderness, even as God was consistently providing for their needs.  This lack of faith always brought additional suffering for them as it does for us, but it is this same suffering that tends to turn us back towards God.  The Old Testament describes this suffering as God punishing them, but I think maybe that in light of what Jesus teaches about God that this suffering is the natural result of turning away from his Saving Love….

“For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them (Matt 13:15).”

Opening our eyes and ears to the present reality of Life in God doesn’t simply motivate God to heal us….it is healing and the end of suffering.  But the primary purpose of this grand truth of Life in God is not simply to end suffering in ‘the world of flesh;’ it is to forever destroy the Original Sin of faith in a life, truth, or reality apart from God.  The end of suffering is the natural effect of this absolute truth, this ultimate cause.  Because your life is in God, it is completely separate from the sinful slavery of life in the flesh.

On a side note, some thoughts on Original Sin –

(hang in there, I’ll come so some sort of point sooner or later…. well, then again maybe not, but you should just chance it 🙂

Have you ever wondered what was so terrible about this Original Sin business?  I mean, the course of an entire world set off track by… a fruit?  Really?  I’ve wondered a bit, and for me I think I’ve got it boiled down to two different issues.

Issue #1 –

This is no ordinary tree.  The knowledge of good and evil – sounds almost like a good thing right?  What could be bad about a little wisdom on things right and wrong?  That’s what’s so sneaky about Satan, because what he’s really selling here is the belief that good and evil exist as a mixture.  Again, doesn’t sound all that bad does it.  I mean, isn’t that what the world is – a mixture of good and evil?  Isn’t that what we are?  These are common world beliefs, and yet there are very dangerous I think, and also very un-biblical.  We know from right at the beginning, God separated light and dark – never to mix.  Can a fountain send forth both fresh water and salt?  A vine produce grapes that are both sweet and bitter?  So evil never mixes with good.

Why?  They are opposites; evil is the negation of good, the absence of it.  Good is God, evil is Satan.  To lump them together would be to put them on equal playing fields, sharing power.  God is all power and Satan only has as much power as we give him.  Unfortunately, we usually give Satan a great deal of power over our lives by doing exactly what Adam did – we accept the false belief that evil stands equal with God.  Because of this, the field of the world is full of tares sown by the enemy, wrapped so tightly with the wheat that we can’t tell the difference between them.  But in spite of the appearances, they are fundamentally separate.  The unfolding of Christ’s harvest will reveal them as such as the wheat is stored forever in the barns of heaven, and the tares are burned into the nothingness from which they came.

Issue #2 –

In seeking his own understanding of things, Adam is basically saying that he doesn’t trust God to guide him, he needs to do it himself.  He has taken his trust in the Almighty and placed in in the world of flesh.  How often do we commit this sin, pretty much every day right?  We turn from the perfect fellowship with God that he has created us for in search of our own plans and endeavors.  How many times in the Bible does God plead for his children just to turn to Him, to see Him for who He is, so that we can be found in his likeness, safe in his Love forever?

And finally, back to the story –

So the Israelites were on a primarily physical journey out of slavery and we are on a journey that is primarily spiritual, but I feel that the analogy is significant.  At the very gates of the Promised Land, the Israelites were finally met with an obstacle so great (the giants) that even with God’s great faithfulness they felt they could not go on.  What is this obstacle in our lives?  What spiritual giants are guarding the gates against us, preventing us from ‘seeing with our eyes, hearing with our ears, and understanding with our hearts?’  What is preventing us from entering the Promised Land of perfect freedom in God?

I think maybe these giants are nothing more than the daily repeated Adam-Original Sin of placing our faith in the life of flesh – where like the tree, man and creation are a mixture of good and evil, and the evil is oftentimes greater than the good.  Is this not the hardening of our hearts and the closing of our eyes and ears?  Is this the universe that God created?  Or did God create man in his Image and Likeness, whole and perfect in every way forever!  What would the world look like if God’s children could keep their eyes fixed on this grand truth for even a second?  Milk and honey truly does flow in this land, the fruit really is so big that ‘two men have to carry it between them (Numbers 13:23).’  The giants are great and terrible, but with God… they are nothing.  Will we fight them?  Or will we continue to wander the wilderness?

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Posted by: mstephens86 | February 18, 2011

Kwajalein Island – Tropical Paradise

Bet you’ve never heard of it… Kwajalein Island – one of many coral atolls that makes up the Marshall Islands, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.  After many days at sea, you steer the ship through a narrow pass in the reef into this tropical lagoon.  An atoll is basically an old underwater volcano that rises about 10,000 feet from the ocean floor and tops out just a few feet above the surface, with the outside of the crater forming the ring of islands that make up shallow lagoon in the middle.  Ocean swells that have been driven 5,000 miles from the American continent pound mercilessly on the reef outside, leaving the lagoon as calm (and as warm) as your bathtub, and the ship stops rolling for the first time in days!  Very nice 🙂

The tiny island of Kwajalein is home to an American missile testing range.  Basically they found the most empty place in the world possible so that they could lob missiles thousands of miles to see what would happen without having to worry about hitting anything.  Bikini Atoll, just a hundred or so miles to the north, was the test site of dozens of nuclear bombs after WWII (check it out online, pretty wild!) .  Very much the middle of nowhere.  Home to only about 1,000 people, the reefs around the island are very well preserved due to the low traffic.  I was fortunate enough to get some diving in, and got to see some colors that I’ve never seen on any reef anywhere.  Australia, Bahamas, and Belize included!  Kwaj is also the final resting place of German WWII heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.  She was with the Bismark when they tried to outrun the British navy…  didn’t work, but the Eugen escaped to survive the war, after which she was towed to Bikini Atoll to be part of the first nuclear tests after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  As you might guess, she did not survive having an atomic bomb dropped on her, but she did survive long enough to be towed to Kwajalein….. where she ran up onto the reef, flipped over, and sank.  To this day her gigantic propellers can be seen sticking up out of the water, and her bow in about 120 feet of water.  Protected in the lagoon, she’s survived the years quite well, making for some very awesome diving which is way at the top of my list when I’m back next time!  Done with cargo, it’s time to pull off the dock, head back out of the shelter of the lagoon, and cross the 3,000 miles of deep blue sea back to Korea (burr!)  The good news for me is that once we get to Korea, 10 days later, I will be getting off the ship and flying back to Scarborough, Maine to hang with friends, family, and one very awesome wife!  I am super excited!  More on that later maybe.  Now to be completely off topic – Check in tomorrow for some thoughts on Exodus huh? 

Posted by: mstephens86 | February 1, 2011

Wake Island – Take Two

So ashore we go on tiny Wake island for a little tour.  We walked though some bunkers where a couple hundred US marines held out for a couple weeks against a coupe thousand Japanese.  They surrendered after sinking a couple Japanese warships, after which they were forced to build fortifications and almost 100 of them were executed.  They were buried in a mass grave, but towards the end of the war they were reburied in a proper cemetery to hide the fact that they were massacred before the Americans re-captured the island.  However, the Japs were a bit sloppy in their work, so bones still are discovered now and then…. including while we happened to be on the island!  One of the caretakers came over and showed us some leg bones they had just found.  They were all pretty excited about it on the island, apparently finding bones this large is rare these days.  Well, nothing much of excitement happens on Wake either, so it could be that as well.  He said that they would be DNA tested for identity and then sent to Hawaii where all of the other POW’s were reburied after the war.

After that we checked out this 70 or so foot long steel sailboat that one of the island personnel is building himself!  He’s been going for 10 years now, with all the work done on island, and the boat’s in the water now and he’s finishing out the interior.  Back out to the ship, and we still had some time for some swimming before we left, so me and a few others jumped off that back deck you can see in the picture which is higher than it looks it turns out, at least 20 feet.  A small side note, this whole swimming off the ship is a very rare luxury because where ships usually travel it’s almost always too cold, polluted or illegal for swimming.  So needless to say, a little dunk in this warm, crystal-clear tropical water was a HUGE treat!  I swam about 100 yards off the ship where the bottom drops from 80 feet down to a couple thousand feet straight down, pretty wild!  Then I swam over to this sunken ship just a 100 yards off the other side and poked around a bit.  It’s a tanker like us called the RC Stoner that broke off the mooring buoys and was crushed on the reef in 1967.  It’s still in pretty good shape, for a wreck that is, so you could see all the winches and some lines still coiled up ready to be used.

Climb up the ladder back on board, slip the mooring lines off and slowly turn the ship out to sea leaving tropical Wake Island in our wake (haha, a pun :-)).  Climb up to the bridge for watch just in time to catch a beautiful sunset in front of us as we sail Southwest towards Guam.  All in all, a pretty epic day at work!  Take care all, and catch you soon.

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 31, 2011

Wake Island – Redefining “Middle of Nowhere”

Seriously… 1,000 miles in any direction to the nearest….. anything!  1,000 miles of deep, blue, tropical Pacific ocean.  Quite impressive actually.  The ocean floor rises 2 miles straight up to form this tiny coral-ringed island.  It’s about 2 miles across, forming a roughly shaped triangle with a shallow lagoon in the middle.  Home to a hundred some odd US Army personal and some workers from Thailand, the island serves as a sort of unsinkable aircraft carrier with a 9,000 foot runway (which takes up half the island).  Read up on the history a bit on wikipedia, especially the part when the opera singers are shipwrecked here in the 1800’s – no joke.   The ship ties up to these buoys, just a couple hundred yards from the surf breaking across the coral – no dock on this island you see.  The hose is floated out to the ship between the oil spill booms in the first picture.  Unlike many tropical islands, however, Wake is completely devoid of any kind of tourism –  US Gov. personnel only.  The cool thing about this is that it makes this private dive site for the people who work here.  And if you do work here, you had better like to dive because that’s pretty much the only activity!There are tons of fish gathering under our lights every night.  The cook just finished landing about 25 or them which I am SUPER excited about!  They’re taking us on a little tour of the island tomorrow morning before we head out to Guam, so more on that in a bit.

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 26, 2011

Open Ocean

So a few days ago I rambled on for a bit about time kind of changes out here, and I’d like to paint a little more of that particular picture for you.  We’re not quite 2,000 miles into our 2,500 mile trip across the Pacific to Wake Island at this point, and seeing as only a handful of people have actually been to this specific part of the world (relatively speaking anyways) I will describe the scenery to you… It’s blue.  Pretty much everywhere you look, except the clouds anyways.  Dark blue ocean, light blue sky… everything blue.  You’ve never seen so much blue as you do at sea.  It’s everywhere, except for night, when it’s black… very black.  Incredible stars, but other than that there’s not a whole lot of color variation out here.  In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of variation of any kind at all!

People can have a tough time with this kind singularity.  Especially in today’s high-speed world sometimes the hardest thing is to slow down and accept the fact that it will take about 6 minutes to cover the mile that lays in front of you, and the one after that, and all the other 1,000 or so miles until you get where you’re going.  During that time you will have zero change in scenery, and then you’ll turn around and do it again!

The closest comparison I can think of on land would be driving through the plains, like the Dakotas or something, with nothing but grass as far as the eye can see.  Or maybe walking thorough the plains would be a better comparison, without seeing anyone for days at a time.  With the help of some fancy electronics, we can see other ships that are over 30 miles away, but we still can go for days without seeing any evidence of human occupation on earth.  Any mariner can sympathize with Kevin Costner in Waterworld.

Of course there’s the people with you on the ship, 15 others in my case.  You’re all stuck within 300 feet of each other, and when the deck of the ship is underwater ’cause the waves are larger than 4 feet high then you’re stuck within 50 feet of each other!  Imagine being in a moderately large house for a couple weeks…. and not being able to leave.  You can go outside, you just can’t leave the deck and walk on the lawn.  Well, you could I guess, but it’s not really recommended.  The area surrounding a ship is probably a lot wetter than your lawn is, and there’s really no guarantee that you’d ever make it back into this particular house… or any other for that matter.

I paint a bleak picture, but it really isn’t all that bad.  In fact, this level of simplicity can really be quite freeing in a lot of ways.  You do have to be ready for it though, it’s a mental thing you see.  Out here it is all too easy to fall into the trap of just passing the time – simply existing.  On land there are all sorts of ways to cover up this kind of sickness with ‘busyness.’  But at sea there are no such distractions.  Either you can find happiness within yourself, joy in the small things, beauty in nature…. or you can’t.  Good life lesson maybe, and I certainly can’t say that I’m entirely successful in this area myself, but it’s good to notice these kinds of things in yourself I think.  Thanks for reading the ramblings, and tune in 800 miles down the road for a little look at Wake Island!

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 18, 2011

Across the Pacific

Well, halfway across anyways, but that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive, so we’ll have to stick with this.  Anyways, we’re getting ready to head into Ulsan, Korea to load for Wake Island which is almost a two week voyage which is quite a ways for a small ship like the Hawaii.  Time takes on a bit of a different form on a ship, especially when you’re away from land for a while.  You get into this routine where the same events happen at the same times day after day.  It sounds like it would be terribly boring, but I think rather that it has been carefully set up that way over thousands of years of seafaring history.  Here’s why…

Ever since the industrial revolution, time in the western world has been based on a linear system.  Hours progress forward into days and then weeks, months, years and so on.  We move from one minute into the next, never experiencing that minute ever again.  Since this is what we’re used to we assume that this is the only way to do business, but this really isn’t the case.  I read this essay once about the Aztec’s time system before the Spanish got to them.  Based on the harvest schedule, their system of time was cyclical rather than linear.  Each season was a repeat of the same season last year -not just a copy you see – they considered it to be that same time repeated, no forward progression.  One specific day was not a year ahead of that same day last year, it was actually that same day relived.

It’s similar at sea.  Time becomes cyclical so that each hour in the day is just a repeat of the previous day – anyone ever seen the movie Groundhog Day?  But instead of being a trap, it actually helps to speed up the time that you have to spend away from your friends and families.  If you spent every day at sea thinking about how many days you had to go before you got to go home (in a linear fashion you see) you’d drive yourself crazy.  You can’t go through life wishing you were somewhere else all the time, you have to find a way to be happy where you are.  At sea, that means finding a routine and sticking to it.  Fun side note, they say that merchant mariners make the best prisoners.  Not that being at sea is like being in prison, well not in every way at least, but you can see the advantages of being able to deal with long periods of time.

Things are much better these days as far as time goes.  Three months seems like a long time to be away, but before airline travel, working on the other side of the world as I do would involve being away for years at a time.  Internet is the other big factor.  Can you imagine only getting some letters here and there?  All I have to do is hop on skype and talk to anyone I want, webcam and all.  So I guess I can’t really complain.  You have to be happy where you are.  If you aren’t, you have to change something, and it could well be that the change needed is simply your prospective.  That’s all.  Hope you all had a great MLK day, and catch you next time!

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 16, 2011

Hiding from the Storm

Sasebo, Japan.  A narrow channel of water sneaks between two hills and opens into a large bay.  As the ship glides in, one of the first structures you see are three tall radio towers lined up in a row.  There’s nothing special about these towers at first glance, but a little conversation with the locals may reveal that the authorization to bomb Pearl Harbor was beamed from these towers to Admiral Yamamoto 60 years ago.  Ironically, one of the Atomic bombs that ended the war was dropped only 20 miles or so from here, on Nagasaki.

The bay bends to the left and reveals the moderate-sized city of Sasebo and the shared Japanese/American naval base that it holds.  Sasebo is remarkable clean, I was surprised to find a healthy collection of goldfish occupying the river that winds it’s way through the city.  It is expensive though.  At the base American aircraft carriers are tied up alongside Japanese destroyers in a remarkable contrast to the way things must have been back in the day.  I can’t help but wonder how things may have played out differently after WWII.  What if Mac Arthur hadn’t pushed so hard to rebuild Japan?  The only nation to strike American soil….ever.  Well, in the last couple centuries anyways.  Would this be a Vietnam instead of what would become the world’s second largest economy?  I spoke to a man who was actually here when the bomb was dropped within sight of his home.  You would expect a certain level of animosity, but instead he said he was just glad that it wasn’t the Russians.

Anyways, the Japanese were certainly using there heads when they chose this place as a naval base and shipyard before WWII.  Tall hills surround the bay, hiding everything from view and blocking all but the strongest wind.  We’re actually at the dock right now waiting out the 40 knot winds and 14 foot seas that occupy the ocean between here and Korea.  The shipyard is still running, cranking out 800 foot long bulk carriers and tankers.  It’s amazing what the Japanese can do with so little space.  The ships are build in 300 ton sections that are lifted onto these flat bed trucks with too many wheels to count to be moved to the dry docks where they are welded into a ship – all within the area of a few city blocks.  There’s also a forge where gigantic blocks of red-hot steel are crushed in various ways by even larger machines throwing sparks like the fourth of July.  I could watch that all day 🙂  My favorite thing of all though has to be the warning signal the cranes make while they’re moving.  In any american industrial setting, such an alarm would involve some annoying blare that may or may not require ear protection.  Here in Sasebo, they sport a lovely medley of “it’s a small world after all” and “the itsy bitsy spider.”  It’s hard to have a bad day when a crane is singing Disney tunes.

Sasabo is a calm place it seems, but I won’t be back for some time.  Tomorrow it’s off to Ulsan, Korea again to load Jet fuel bound for Wake Island, halfway across the Pacific.  With winter storms ripping out of Siberia, it promises to be an interesting trip… I’ll keep you all posted!  Take care all, and I’ll catch you later.

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 9, 2011

Back in the Tropics

Okinawa again, sure feels good after frigid Korea.  We’re tied up to a buoy about a half mile offshore and pumping out jet fuel to a hose that lies on the bottom of the ocean.  Divers go down with a line and then we pull the hose up with our crane and bolt it onto our pipelines.  The shore-side tank we’re pumping into is over 10 miles away on the other side of the island, so it takes a long time to discharge here (about 36 hrs) due to the high back pressure (70 psi).  Tomorrow we’ll be heading back north to Korea, although it looks like we’ll have better weather then we did when I posted on it the other day (“Going nowhere fast”) which is good.  It’s no fun living inside a washing machine on spin cycle.

Started to read Isaiah today and was reminded how much it grieves God when his children turn from Him.  Like a good parent, God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that suffering would turn us away from sin.  We are young foolish children who feel that the universe revolves around us, but God wants us to know that our greatness is in Him alone.  Isaiah has been very convicting so far.  There are wonderful promises of protection in is Love though, good stuff.  Catch you all later and have a great weekend!

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 5, 2011

Couple ‘o thoughts on Jesus

So as I mentioned in the first post of this epic blog, I occasionally like to write down a thought or two about the Bible and Christianity.  So as promised, I’d like to unload one on you from this sort of article I wrote a while back.  It’s called Thoughts on Christianity (very original, I know) and it’s about something that’s grown rather close to my heart over the last few years – how the Church of Christ (as a whole) grew into separate denominations over the centuries at the expense of true fellowship as a single body of Christ.  The article has three parts, “Who is Jesus?” “Who are we?” and “How is healing possible?”  Together they make up over 7 full pages, so in interest of keeping you all from never reading my blog again, I’ll just give you the first part today.  It also will introduce a bit about my background as a Christian, which, chances are, is different that yours.  This is a good thing because no one ever learns anything when our perspectives are exactly the same right down the line, but it also means that you’ll have to allow me some Grace when I toss an opinion out there that doesn’t jive with you.  Feel free to write a comment to disagree by all means, but I also encourage you to back opinion with Biblical truths whenever possible and I will try to do the same.  Lets remember that opinions are what they are… not Biblical truth, so please don’t do something drastic like de-friend me on Facebook if you decide that I’m off my rocker 🙂  That being said, I give you my reflections on Jesus and the oneness of his Church.  Take care, reflect a bit, and enjoy –

 

Thoughts on Christianity

In the 17th chapter of John, Jesus prays one last time with his disciples before he is betrayed to be crucified.  In verses 11 and 21, Jesus prays that God would allow his followers to be one in Christ in the same way that he is one with his Father.  This prayer (and the beautiful hymn written about it below) affected me greatly and has since become a primary focus in my life as a follower of Christ.

 

Violet Hay

ATKEY

George Dyson

*Music by permission of George Dyson

 

Jesus’ prayer for all his brethren:

Father, that they may be one,

Echoes down through all the ages,

Nor prayed he for these alone

But for all, that through all time

God’s will be done.

 

One the Mind and Life of all things,

For we live in God alone;

One the Love whose ever-presence

Blesses all and injures none.

Safe within this Love we find all

being one.

 

Day by day the understanding

Of our oneness shall increase,

Till among all men and nations

Warfare shall forever cease,

So God’s children all shall dwell

in joy and peace.

 

To me, Jesus’ prayer raises the following question: as followers of Christ we may have been working to advance his kingdom, but what have we done to advance the oneness of his kingdom?  Are God’s children dwelling with each other in joy and peace?  The evidence sometimes suggests otherwise.  Personally, I feel that Jesus saw the traps of excessive denominationalism coming and prayed that it would not happen.  I do not mean to say that having different denominations is bad, merely that it can get out of hand when we lose the ability to communicate constructively.  Christians, are we honoring this prayer today in how we treat other Christians?  In my personal experience, a great source of misunderstanding and mistrust exists between the Protestant denomination called Christian Science and what I like to call mainstream Christianity.  In light of Jesus’ prayer for oneness among his followers, I have felt God moving me to explore this further over the past few years.

Through Sunday school and my loving family, Christian Science was my sole source of religious education and growth up until the age of 18 when I left for collage.  This was a wonderful time of learning for me that would grow into a genuine and personal (and messy!) love for God and his creation.  In college I learned a few new things very quickly:  First, that there actually are young people my age who believe in God (I went to a small church in Brunswick, Maine – the retirement capital of the world!).  Second, that they thought and talked about God differently then I was used to.  And third, that I had a difficult time communicating with my new friends about what I believed about God and vice versa.

Over the next few years I learned many valuable lessons through my new relationships, and particularly though the relationship with my girlfriend, Lori who recently has become my wife!  Probably the greatest of these lessons was that a major source of conflict between Christians of different backgrounds is simply the result poor communication.  Christianity is a religion of passionate faith which unfortunately can lead to the temptation of premature judgment.  When someone hears somebody speak on a topic that they care passionate about, they tend to instinctively jump to a conclusion as to what the other person is saying and then rapidly decide if they agree or not.  I learned this lesson through hours of religious “debate” which is really just a nice way to say “speaking without listening.”  After resolving to give up this fruitless approach to inter-denominational communication, I found that the only legitimate reference for such discussions was the Bible.  When I spoke from this standpoint I found instant common ground with other Christians (Lori) whereas speaking from personal belief and experience led only to greater misunderstanding and conflict.  From this Biblical platform I learned other valuable lessons about what it means to be a Christian which I would love to share with you.  It is my hope that all of these thoughts will be tested against scripture and I would welcome any editing.

 

Who is Jesus really?

Probably one of the most confusing topics to discuss between mainstream Christians and Christian Scientists is the nature of Jesus Christ.  Ask a mainstream Christian if Jesus is God and they will probably say yes.  Ask a Christian Scientist the same question and they will probably say no.  Seeing as these replies are exact opposites of each other, it would seem that there is inherent and irrevocable conflict here.  Especially since many would feel that this topic stabs at the soft underbelly of whether someone is a Christian or not (always a sensitive topic).  Now picture this conflict in the context of a serious dating relationship that would be heading straight on to marriage if it weren’t for a few ‘minor’ doctrinal misunderstandings, and you’ll have some idea of my motivation to get to the bottom if this issue (If you haven’t figured it out by now, it did work out between Lori and I.  I hate to spoil the ending, but I just couldn’t leave you in the same suspense that I felt for about a year or so.  But I’ll stop blabbering now and tell you how God began to lead us in our struggle).  In spite of the seeming greatness of this doctrinal divide, I ran into some very uplifting truths as I began to dig deeper into what the Bible has to say about Jesus.  There are two main points that I can see; the first is about oneness, and the second is about distinction.  We can examine them one at a time.

With passages like John 10:30 and John 17:11-21, it would be tough to argue against the oneness that exists between Jesus and his heavenly Father from a Biblical standpoint.  As his perfect reflection, Jesus Christ is one with God like a drop of water is one with the ocean.  There is no boundary layer between the drop and the ocean, and the drop perfectly carries the properties of the ocean as a whole.  He is also one with God like a ray of light is one with the Sun, behaving as both particle and wave as it radiates from its source and as is fills the earth with light.  The oneness of Jesus Christ and his Father is a point which must be fully honored by his followers (us).

Although there is no separation between Jesus and God, the Bible does speak of a distinction between Jesus and God.  We see this because while Jesus accepts glory and praise, he also passes some of it on to his Father (John 14:28, John 12:44, John 14:28).  If there was no distinction then Jesus would accept all glory and praise, but he does not.  In the book of Revelation we see that Jesus has a fixed location even after the ascension (Rev. 1:13 and 14:14) – Jesus is distinct from the omnipresence of his Father.  In Luke 2:52 we find that the young Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.  If Jesus grew and learned, then he is distinct from the omniscience of his Father.  In John 5:30 Jesus reveals that he has no power to do anything through himself, but has all power through God.  Jesus is distinct from the omnipotence of his Father.  Omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence are qualities that are held by God as eternal heavenly Father and are fully utilized by Christ, Jesus through reflection and perfect fellowship with his Father.

To me, distinction is just as important as oneness because if oneness truly means “one-in-the-same,” (no distinction between Jesus and God) then it pushes Jesus away from us and makes him less relatable to mankind, which I feel would compromise his entire mission on earth (never a good thing).  How could he command us to be like him and to do even greater things than he did (yikes!) if in the next breath he told us “oh yeah, and by the way… I’m God.  Good luck!”  Paul tells us that although he was the very image of the Father, he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped.  This wasn’t just an accident, there’s a good reason for everything that Jesus did, so let’s not downplay this one.

That being said, please don’t think that I’m downplaying Christ Jesus, the Divinely royal man and Savior of the world!  Jesus is God manifested (made apparent).  Since Jesus reflects perfectly all the fullness of God, he brings the light of God to a world that is clouded by sin.  Or, to use the other analogy, if you took that drop of water from the ocean and then transported it to Omaha Nebraska (far from the ocean) and put it under a microscope, you would find all the same properties that existed in the ocean: The hydrogen and the two oxygen atoms, the 60 degree angle (or whatever it is), and even the salt crystals.  Upon examination, someone who had read about these qualities might even say that this was in fact the ocean and this statement would be correct.  For someone who had actually seen the ocean, it would also be correct for them to say that the drop was not the ocean because the ocean is actually much bigger (John 14:28) and that the drop was from the ocean, part of the ocean.  Jesus is that drop of water from the ocean for those who have never truly seen God (pretty much all of us).

So back to the original question, why the different answers?  When a mainstream Christian says that Jesus is God, to me (personal opinion – feel free to disagree) they might be saying the following: “I understand that there is a distinction between Jesus and God, I choose my words in this case to honor the oneness.”  When a Christian Scientist says that Jesus is not God, to me they are saying, “I understand that there is perfect oneness between Jesus and God, I choose my words in this case to honor the distinction.”  The emphasis is different for one reason or another (to be continued…) but I believe that both statements are Biblical as long as we understand what it is we’re talking about.

 

The End  (about time right?)

 

So there you have it.  I hope that this begins to give you an idea of where I’m coming from with my thoughts.  We all interpret the Bible one way or another in our hearts and it’s useful for us to share our hearts so we can learn, and also so that we don’t stray to far from the Truth!  I hope that we can give each other new angles on the vast mysteries of our Great God, and I also hope that with Grace we will not let each other stray from His Truth.  Thanks friends, and catch you soon with part 2…

Posted by: mstephens86 | January 3, 2011

Going Nowhere Fast

After 2 days at sea we’re wallowing along at about 4 knots (in good weather we do around 12) trying to keep the bow from slamming too hard in the 12′ seas.  A larger ship would be able to just smash it’s way through for the most part, but not our little ship.  So it’s 2 days down and almost 2 to go in what should be a 2 day trip.  Woe is me.  That’s shipping though.  When you’re whole world is floating on water you have to be able to go with the flow so to speak, which in this case means slowing down and being happy with where you’re at.  A good life lesson maybe. Honestly, it’s really not that bad though.  As the ship slides over the waves the plankton in these rich waters gets all stirred up and creates this sparkling aquatic light show called phosphorescence or bioluminescence, very pretty actually.

So with some time on my hands I’d like to tell you a bit about the kinds of people you find out here.  Diverse is a mild word for it.  American ships are among the more homogeneous out here, but even so we have sailors from five different countries and  personalities that range even wider.  We’ve got the typical single young American male living the good life and holding off marriage as long as possible, we’ve got the middle aged guy who’s on his 4th marriage, and then we’ve got our assistant cook from Yemen who was married when he was 14 and will probably live to see his 70th anniversary.  We’ve got  Filipino sailors who come over to the US ships as  able seaman (AB’s for short) because they make more here than they did as officers on foreign ships.  Our other able seamen are from Thailand and Russia,. The Chief Mate came up through the ranks from AB to get where he is, kind of like enlisting in the military and then working you way up to be an officer – not easy to do in either field.  He looks like ‘the fonz’ from the show Happy Days and sounds like him too.  He tries to give me life lessons, mostly concerning the female variety, and I try to teach him what he ignored in Catholic School.  It’s an interesting and entertaining relationship, and sometimes we both end up learning something.  He still thinks that virgin birth was really just a ‘milkman incident’ cover-up though, so I guess we still have a ways to go on that front.

The other Chief Mate that rotates out with him has a somewhat different story.  He was born in Vietnam before the war and lived through the whole thing along with his family, often times living for months just on rodents, insects, and garbage.  After the war, the communist government tried to draft him to fight in Cambodia.  Seeing as all his friends who went to fight were dead, he decided he had a better chance leaving his family at 17 and sneaking onto a refugee boat for Indonesia.  After a year in the refugee camp he made it to America and into Maine Maritime Academy.  While learning English, he made it through the 4 years of training to become a Merchant Marine officer and spent the next 10 years bringing his family over from Vietnam.

Another Vietnamese  guy we see out here now and then has a similar story. His father was an American soldier who was killed later in the war which made him a citizen, and also made his situation quite a bit more difficult.  His mother was a local girl who gave him to a Saigon orphanage to avoid being killed, which is where he stayed until the city fell to the communist army.  He and the other half-American orphans were assigned to burying dead soldiers and guarding the cemeteries so that families couldn’t find out how many of their relatives were killed in the wars.  They were given rifles and 2 bullets, and if they didn’t come back at the end of the day with 2 bullets or a body they weren’t allowed to eat that day.  None of them wanted to shoot anybody, so they had a system where people would come to the outside of the walls and give them a name to look for in exchange for food.  Eventually the Vietnamese government decided they keep or kill this group of orphans, so they sent them off to America to be adopted.  Certainly makes you feel lucky to have the opportunities that we do.

It takes all types, and you meet a pretty good slice of them out here.  Shipping is unlike any other job in that you live and eat with your coworkers 24/7 for months at a time.  Although this can be a downside at time, it does allow you to get to know people in a way that you never would outside of your own family.  Folks that you might not glance at twice crossing the street become almost a second family to you.  Almost always you come away with a close friendship out of it, and almost always there are conversations that lead towards God.

An AB I had on my watch was one such person.  He had been raised in a Christian home, even went to seminary, but he had a rough first marriage which soured him on religion a bit.  Starting in High school due to a surprise of the baby variety, the marriage slid downhill quickly and ended after just a few years.  Remarried to a Catholic woman for around 8 years now, he’s been a great source of wisdom as I got ready to be married just a few months ago.  We’ve also had a number of great conversations about the present reality of God’s glorious Love in our lives.  When I began this career, I underestimated the value of the relationships that would come out of it, and I am thankful that I am where I am for this reason above all others.

All that being said, it’s back to picking things off the floor where the sea has thrown them and watching the plankton dance in our wake.  Take care,  friends, and keep in touch.

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