The Haggai Technique for Finding Christ

The Great Commission is a passage in scripture that we often attribute to evangelism, the telling of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Most often it is attributed to Christ’s parting instructions to his disciple’s on a mountain in Galilee.  However, there is so much more in his parting words.  This once lost but now found God tells you he will not be lost again.  God’s final words given in Christ’s human form are, as recorded by Matthew, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(28:20b)

As aliens in a foreign land, these have to be the most comforting words we can be given.  They are the words that should be in the forefront of our thoughts at all times for our comfort and strengthening.  However we lose those words so easily that our faith is weakened and doubt enters in.  To contemplate that we have lost Christ or have never even found him is common among believers.  I often run across those who, not wanting to share the depths of their experience in this dark venture, simply say they are not growing spiritually or in some lull.  If the truth be told they too are having an episode of losing Christ.

Even if we have been saved we are still fallible creatures prone to periods of spiritual illness.  We, while following our Savior, tend to look away, admiring the sights along the roadside.  When we look up again Christ seems to be nowhere in sight.  Did you ever get lost when you were a child?  I have a vivid memory of losing my mother in the Family Dollar.  Now that’s pretty pathetic as most Family Dollars are not very large.  Anyway I did and it was terrible.  I recall the horror looking down isle after isle unable to find my comfort.  I’m sure she was looking for me at the same time on the other end, but we were missing each other.  The key here was that we knew where to look, where we had last seen each other, and knowing that Mother would not leave the store without me, gave me some comfort that on one of the isles we would reunite.  If you were to lose sight of Christ, do you know where to find him?

Happily for us, Christ has left us very obvious clues as to his whereabouts.  Physically Christ, the Son of God, is in heaven.  Spiritually he is everywhere.  Sometimes he is more present than in other times.  But according to his instructions he may always be found in differing measures by his means of grace.  Typically, the revealed means of grace are prayer, the scriptures, his ordinances such as worship services, preaching and the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and communal fellowship.  However one place where he is to be found and we often overlook, is in ourselves.

Now for those of you who know me, don’t think that I have been picking magic mushrooms in my pasture this morning.  Though in this July humidity they grow quite abundantly amongst the manure.  I am in no way referring to any charismatic experiencing of Christ.  What I am advocating is meditation.  No, you are not required to assume the lotus position, I couldn’t if  I tried,  or burn incense.  Though if these things help, and you’re into that stuff, go for it.  What I am suggesting is the Haggai Technique.  Hmm, you say, haven’t heard of that one.  Well don’t google it, it’s my invention.  At least the catchy name is anyway.  You may need google to find the book of Haggai though.  Sandwiched between Zephaniah and Zechariah, the prophet Haggai tells the leadership of Judah to do some meditation, he tells them to THINK.  “Now this is what the LORD almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways.”(1:5)  The prophet is telling you to evaluate what you are doing.

There is a fine line between healthy and harmful introspection.  If you spend all of your time considering yourself it is definitely not healthy.  The entire book of Haggai is only two chapters.  If you only took half the time “considering your ways” in light of the word of God, as it takes to read Haggai, I’m certain you will relocate Christ.  This practice of meditating on your ways is exactly what Paul tells the Corinthians to do prior to coming and partaking in the Lord’s Supper.  He says “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.”(1 Cor. 11:28,29) Basically, if you expect to find Christ in the ordinance and you haven’t confirmed his presence in yourself, by realizing that your sin requires his sacrificial body and blood, then the Lord’s Supper is not going to provide for you the nourishment it is intended to give.  Meditate on your relationship with Christ before you come to the observance of the Sacrament. The Haggai Technique can be used anytime.  Psalm 4:4 tells of David’s anger over his betrayal.  God tells him to meditate.  “In your anger do not sin.  When you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.”(4:4)  The Prodigal Son meditated in a pig pen.  When he considered his ways he saw himself starving, not even eating as well as the pigs.  Christ said that he “came to his senses.”  Meditation will do that.

Whenever you approach any means of God’s meeting out his grace, whether it be attendance on the Sacraments or just meeting with another believer for fellowship, consider your ways, and look for Christ in yourself.   Find him in yourself and he will magnify your view of him in the other ways he reveals himself.  Now you go chew on that magic shroom.

Paradise Lost

I realize that to title a blog post after what is probably the most famous English poem is a little cheesy.  Whether you have read the 17th century work by John Milton or not, you can guess the subject matter.  The first few lines sum it up:

 

‘Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe’

I must admit I have not read the whole work, nor do I intend to, primarily because I am not qualified to read some 400 plus pages of poetry without commentary.  Though I took Early and Middle English literature in college,  Renaissance Literature was not my thing.  John Milton was a brilliant man and a devout Protestant Reformer.   He, like so many others of this period, were greatly influenced by the period’s availability of the Bible translation into spoken languages.  The arts flourished, as the appetites for the stories of the bible and the legends of the ancient world met in a whirlwind of creativity.  However, I’m not sure that Milton or any of the renown artists and writers of the day truly captured the true nature of what ended and began in the event of the fall of man in the garden.

According to Milton, man’s first sin, the eating of that which was forbidden, brought about death and “all our woe.”  I contend these consequences of sin, death and woe,  were and are secondary effects of sin.  What was truly the primary effect of sin was the dividing of the relationship between God and man.  What was lost, which made the garden paradise, was spiritual union.  We lost God.

I’m sure you have lost things.  You can become quite undone when you are seeking to find what you have lost.  Did you know, however, that it is quite natural for you to be seeking after something.  Man is a seeking creature. We are constantly from birth trying to find what we don’t have.  Before the fall man did not seek?  The word picture that best describes man in our natural state is a blind seeker.  Just picture a blind man seeking after something.  The difficulty is he cannot even fully describe what he is looking for because he has never seen it.  His other senses may give him a partial knowledge of what he is after, but not thorough knowledge.  Literally he doesn’t even know what he has lost.

We, in our fallen state, don’t even know that we have lost God.  Therefore we cannot seek him.  “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”(Rom 3:11)  We seek to have our wants supplied, something to satisfy our hearts but we no not for sure what that is. Rest for or satisfaction of the soul is a lifelong endeavor.  From waking to sleeping, and even in our dreams we seek without intermission.  Psychology, the study of the soul, often paints the very same picture of suicide.  A person who contemplates suicide suffers from a starving soul dying in despondency.  They are at their wits end searching for something they know not what nor where that something is.

This is a pretty bleak picture of the state of man.  Constantly looking for something but not knowing what.  This is the primary effect of sin.  This is what the bible teaches.  You can’t even use the blind squirrel theory that even he finds a nut every now and then.  We wouldn’t even know if we found it.

Wow, what a downer right.  Wrong, this is actually the miracle of the Gospel.  If you know what it is you seek it is not lost.   The sequel to Paradise Lost is the Covenant of Grace.  If you God has chosen to allow you to seek him he has shown you his mercy and has renewed your sight.  He has made known to you your desperate need for your union with him.  Your futile search is over.  He has said you will seek and you will find.  You will knock and you will have the door opened.  You are united to him, now look for him.

 

Do You Reach for the Golden Ring?

The fantastical world of Middle Earth, as discussed previously, is a representation of the state of the world we live in as followers of Christ. The state of the Christian between corruption and glory. The very notion of something or someplace existing beyond time and space stretches our imagination past the point comprehension.  However, a desire to know more is part of the nature of man.  The desire to have or be more is also natural to man but can be sinful.  If asked the question, “Do you desire to be more like God?” how would you respond?  Now don’t you go and get ahead of me, anticipating an ambush.  Of course you want to be more like God.  In fact, God commands it.  Your sanctification guarantees it. Christ suffered and died for it. Specifically what I am asking is in what areas of your life are you to be more like God and what areas are you forbidden to be more like him?

In the beginning God created man holy and happy.  According to the Westminster Divines, the bible teaches that God created man, male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.  Adam and Eve lacked for nothing in the garden.  Every good material and intellectual possession was at the disposal of man.  Being sighted people we tend to visualize all of the illustrations we have seen over a lifetime and paint a picture of life in the garden. Oh, what a lovely, tranquil, happy scene, right?

I return to the question, Do you desire to be more like God?  If your answer was yes, then you join some famous company, for so did our first parents.  The problem is that we are, as were Adam and Eve, mutable creatures. We are subject to change.  The first change in all of the history of mankind was from being content to covetous. The story of man’s contented state is a very short story. Where we most constantly need to be more like God, and yet have the most difficulty and often the least willingness, is in the area of contentment. We are taught from birth to be achievers.  In the venerable words of David Lee Roth, in the Van Halen hit “Dreams,” we are told, “Reach for the golden ring, (notice that ring theme again) reach for the sky.  Baby just spread your wings.  We’ll get higher and higher.  Straight up we’ll climb.” Not one of my favorite Van Halen tunes, but the video was a great recruiting tool for the Navy, which featured the Blue Angels aerial performance.  Really cool stuff.  The lyrics are not about flight in that sense however.  The message is that if you are dissatisfied with your current relationship, follow your dreams, flee from your commitment and find that perfect love. Discontent?  Then listen to Satan and follow your covetous heart. Not that Van Halen is Satan, despite what your mother said.

 

God is perfectly content in himself and he is immutable.  Therefore he cannot be discontented.  One way to be more like God is to practice Divine contentment.  If I may, let me plug a book. It’s my blog, I can do this. “The Art of Divine Contentment” by Thomas Watson can be had from Amazon for the price of a latte.  About seventy pages of some of the rarest jewels you will find outside of the Bible.  Don’t be turned off by the 17th century English.  The rarity is magnified by the beauty of it.

Returning to Tolkien we remember Sauron, who was the evil dark lord, the Darth Vader of “Lord of the Rings,” was the creator of the ring of power, which was the central theme of the story.  Sauron was also a servant of Morgoth, the representation of evil in many of Tolkien’s works. There is little doubt that these characters alluded to Satan and his various manifestations.  Theories for what the ring symbolized for Tolkien vary.  However it is clear that the ring derived its power from it’s creator.  What was the nature of that power?

This power allowed the ring to reach inside of those who had it and draw out their most base elements of covetousness.  Rings are by definition symbols.  They, like all adornments, speak for the wearer.  This ring however spoke to the wearer.  It had a life of its own and that life was part of its creator.  When Satan spoke to Eve in the garden, he appeared in the likeness of a creature that, like the ring, should not have been speaking.  Do you see the similarities to the stories?  Satan appealed to the same thing the ring did, man’s discontent.  Look at the chink in the armor that Satan’s arrow pierced.  Look at what he said to Eve.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5)  In other words, man, you are not satisfied with the lot you have been dealt, God has not given you everything he could, he has made you less than himself, less than you deserve and you desire to be like him, in the sense that you know what is best for you.  In order to accomplish this, do exactly what God says not to do, follow you heart.

Gandalf, the prophetical wizard, warned Frodo of the ring’s power.  The warning was, do not succumb to your desire to do that which I tell you not to do in order to gain what you desire.   He told him not to put it on.  Though, pragmatically, the ring delivered Frodo and Bilbo out of some tight spots with the wearer’s power of invisibility , but the consequences were negative.   The power of the sin of discontent lies at the heart of all of our sin.  Satan does not make us sin, he merely dangles before our eyes that which we believe God has denied our possession of.  He puts before us the idea that we are our own gods.  We desire to be like God, masters of our own destiny.  Our hearts are idol factories, and the first and most dear idol they create is self esteem.

I challenge you to spend a little time thinking about the relationship of sin and discontent.   Do this exercise.  Name a sin and consider the motivation for that sin. You will always find discontentment and covetousness is not only present with that sin but is the motivation for it.  I think that you will be able determine that the tenth commandment is violated in conjunction with every other commandment. This can be a rather dismal experience, like a hike through Mirkwood when the forest was sick.  However there is a bright light at the end.  Christ has delivered you from the power of the ring.  That does not mean that you will no longer experience discontent.  What this means is that he has made you able to be content (Phil. 4:13) and that you are no longer condemned if you are not(Rom. 8:1).

 

 

 

A Meeting of the Minds

In my last post I remarked how I had a fascination with God’s providence.  My morning devotions today took me back to my old friend Thomas Boston.  If you followed my posts in the past, you remember that I regard him to have been the greatest preacher who ever lived.  While still working through his posthumously published 12 volume “Complete Works,” at the end of a sermon he preached at Ettrick, Scotland, July 7, 1728, on 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” he drew some conclusions that really struck a chord with me.

Obviously the doctrine taught here is that the Christian’s walking is a dependence on what God has promised to be the appropriate way, as opposed to by sight which is the appearance things make to their sight, senses, and human reason.  In other words Boston says that we should “walk like men of another world.”  Why should we do this, beside the fact that God tells us to?  We are to do this first because when we are born again we literally become aliens.  Thus we then live in a foreign land, and where we are going is Heaven, where Christ is.  So far Boston was teaching fairly basic doctrine.  In his wrap-up to the sermon was where the fun really began.  In his second point to confirm the doctrine he states, “Thus the Christian’s life is distinguished from that of the Saints in Heaven and that of the wicked, as he is in a middle state betwixt the two.”

So you may say, “Ok, where’s fireworks and the crescendo?”  You may see where I’m going with this post.  If you do, then you may be as weird as I am.  If you don’t, then you are probably quite normal, and just don’t have the time spend following my line of thought.  However, if you read my post a few days ago, “Faith to See Beyond the Shire,” I was pointing out this very topic.  Our world view should be distinctly different than those around us because of the nature of our citizenship.  We literally are living in, not only, a foreign country, but a foreign world.  In God’s perfectly good providence he brought together two trains of thought I had been riding onto the same track, in the same direction, and the same time.  These are Boston’s middle state and Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  For me this is simply magical.

Let me breath. Ok, I’m better now.

What is this place that we live in?  By sight, it looks like a familiar place, what I called my Shire.  But when the scales fall from our eyes, by regeneration and sanctification,  what is revealed is Middle Earth, Tolkien’s fabled world.  Some pundits on Tolkien simply want to make Middle Earth an old world continent, sort of a mystical archaic Europe, with the Hobbit’s Shire as a representation of England.  However many believe, from Tolkien’s perspective, Middle Earth was conceived as the setting for his tales by the Old English, pre-Christian, language translation of the word “middengeard,” the everyday world between Heaven and Hell.

If you surf around the internet you will find endless material about the symbolism of Tolkien.  Some of it some pretty strange stuff.  I prefer however to have fun with finding in Tolkien the symbolism I recognize in the world we live in. Tolkien’s stories symbolized the world God has temporarily set us in.  Nothing in Tolkien’s Middle earth was what it appeared to be.  Both animate and inanimate morphed from apparent to obscure.  Lust of the eyes, the flesh, and pride were always the downfall of the characters.  Entropy was placed in motion with no hope of reversal accept for divine intervention.   Even the good were powerless against evil, barring some propitiation. I could go on indefinitely, but you can get the picture.

As you walk through Middle Earth, whether you are descending to the depths of Mordor, with the flames all around you, trying to rid yourself of your precious sins, or you are merely tending your garden in the Shire, feeling sheltered from danger, beware, things are not as they appear.  You live and walk with the triune God constantly providing faith in his promise of deliverance to your true home, eternal life with him in Glory.

 

 

 

For What It’s Worth

Remember how I often mention my difficulty with paying attention?  Well, this post is a direct result of my being distracted for a moment.  Last week, while cutting back a ditch bank in the South Carolina summer heat, plugged into some great oldies, I had a thought that could be applicable for the blog.  The heat could have been responsible, but I rather prefer to believe my fascination with God’s providence in all things brought me to this topic.

Does anyone remember the band Buffalo Springfield?  In 1966 they were the house band at the Whiskey a Go Go, a night club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.  This area was home to the music and club scene, and the gathering place for a generation that would soon be in turmoil as their government was making war on the other side of the world, in a place they had never heard of.   In November of ’66 the city of LA passed a 10:00 curfew ordinance for the Sunset Strip area because of traffic and pedestrian congestion, or so they said, basically shutting down the popular club scene there.  On November 12 as many as 1000 young people staged a protest which became violent. According to witnesses, a fight broke out when the occupants of a car stuck in the traffic started a fight with protesters.  You know what happened next.  The police interpreted the fight to be protester violence and it all went south.  In the days following the riots Stephen Stills, vocalist and guitarist for Buffalo Springfield, and later would be famous as a member of the folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, wrote the song “For What It’s Worth,” also known as “Stop, Hey What’s that Sound.”  The lyrics were inspired by the Sunset strip riots, which deeply affected Stills.  He saw the pent up anger from both the youth culture and the civil government collide on the streets of LA, where no side was a winner.  A few weeks later Stills contacted an Atlantic Records producer and said something to the effect,  “I have this song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.”  On December 6, “For What It’s Worth,” the title given in jest, was recorded. This solidified the theme song for a generation in turmoil.  While only peaking at #7 on the 1967 Billboard Charts,  today it sits at #63 of Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500.

Obviously when Stills arranged and recorded these lyrics he nor his mates ever considered what an impact they would make.  In the turbulent decade that would follow, these lyrics would inspire young baby boomers who were voicing their desire for cultural freedom, African Americans struggling for social equality, and soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines trying not to die in foreign political campaigns.  Even Forrest Gump would tell his story set to the music of Buffalo Springfield.

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Understand, I am no free love hippie and am not promoting civil disobedience.  Nor am I seeking to glorify a musical artist.  What I am highlighting is how in God’s sovereign providence something seemingly benign can work for change, and always for our good and his glory.  Whether you believe that some of the changes brought about by those who were inspired by this song were good, God says that they were. Rom. 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for GOOD…”  For if one of God’s attributes is goodness, then all he does must be good.

You never know how God will use even the most seemingly small event in your life.  The butterfly effect is God’s trademark.  Always remember that behind all you do is an all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present God, who will direct your path with or without your help.  When you speak a small word to a stranger, do the anonymous good deed, or even write a song,  you have started a wave of providence that will have impact on some shore.  Don’t become discouraged that your role as a member of the body of Christ is insignificant.  Even if you doubt your fulfilment of Paul’s instruction to the Romans (12:1), to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, as if anyone does, you can offer your service through your daily walk before men, and trust that God will provide the affect.  Always remember that your efforts are worthy because Christ makes them so.

Supernatural Blindness

My upbringing was, at least from my perspective at the time, fairly normal.  My siblings were much older than I, so from my formative years on, I was the only child in the household.  We had the basic TV channels, radio, and the monthly periodicals.  However, there was little time for those things because I was busy playing.  That’s right, using my imagination to make up for the lack of all the stimuli children have today.  When I think back, I remember vividly the world I created for myself.  Adventures pretending with the aid of toy guns, action figures, and usually whatever involved getting dirty.  What I don’t recall is much imagining anything supernatural.  I suppose the fantastical was just that, fantasy.  We were taught not to believe in magic, otherworldly creatures or powers.  I’m not sure where Santa and the Easter bunny fit in, but certainly goblins, ghosts, and dead people coming to life at Halloween were taboo.  We could do the Halloween stuff of course but it was just for fun, not real.

I guess we have just become such an enlightened society that the supernatural or metaphysical is just a distraction best left to the fringe groups like “Wiccans” or Native Americans.  Just for kicks, have you ever considered that those who dabble in the otherworldly may have an advantage over most “rational” human beings in legitimizing the truths of scripture? In fact it was not that long ago that the belief in the supernatural was the norm. To believe in the literal creation accounts all the way to the destruction of the earth as we know it, not by man made climate change but by God’s own version of global warming, would have been the norm just a few generations ago.  In a previous post, entitled State of Grace: Part 1,  I discussed this same topic as it relates to regeneration or being born again.  I won’t repeat myself but I recommend you go back and read that post after this one.

I realize there can be a fine line when we enter the world of supernatural phenomena.  There are always dangers, especially for children, when exposed to the horror and destruction that is often associated with these topics.  For instance, as a teenager I saw the movie “Amityville Horror.”  Let me tell you, that was my first and last horror flick.  On the peer level it was cool to go to these movies and be frightened.  Though some of my macho guy friends claimed not to be, but their dates were, and that was good for them.  I however was shaken by the evil spiritual power, death and destruction.  There was an innate sense of the possibility of the reality of it all, and I wanted no part of it.  I am not promoting horror movies, Steven King novels, nor the “Long Island Medium” series, but rather just permitting yourself to open the door just a crack to see what your level of belief is.

We will never know for sure what Tolkien really believed about what he wrote.  What he did believe in strongly was that the tales told for thousands of years before the Christianization of Europe were not just the result of ignorant people making up fantasy.  There was an element of truth in those Viking legends, those Druid rites, and  the Elvish tongue.  Good verses evil, redemption, reprobation, powers of darkness and light, and promised messiahs were all story lines of peoples long ago who had never seen a bible.  Tolkien was well aware of the story of the Tower of Babel and the subsequent confusing of languages and the dispersal of the people of earth, or Middle Earth, as he penned his words.  The elements of truth contained in this ancient lore was passed on from generation to generation from the foundation of the world. In fact, if you believe the bible, these stories were told by the descendants of Japheth, Noah’s son. Oh by the way, if you are of European descent, these were your grandparents.  The tribe of Japheth migrated from Asia to be the first Europeans.  These are your family’s tales.  Tolkien wanted it to live on, not as fact, but not as fiction either. He devoted his life to it.  During a time when it was believed that the Renaissance was the beginning of quality literature in Briton and that Shakespeare was the bomb, Tolkien fought for the tale tellers who went before them.

What I am proposing here is not only enjoying a good story, but also examining what you believe concerning the mysteries of God.  Don’t be led down the path of the higher critics of the bible, which leads to tearing out the supernatural aspects as if they are merely the remains of ignorance from another age.  The fantastical tales of a primitive and scientifically bereft people, may actually be more advanced and accurate than what we believe to be truth today.

 

 

 

Faith to See Beyond the Shire

I introduced to you the inspiration for this and the next few posts, JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series, in my last post.  You might say that I am a big fan of Tolkien due to the fact that one of my cats and one of my dogs are named Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee.  Although I encourage you to read Tolkien the movies are wonderful too.

If you are familiar with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis you know that they have been somewhat controversial in Christian circles.  Lewis, most famous for “Chronicles of Narnia,” has been credited for the allegorical nature of these works.  Tolkien and Lewis were friends, members of an elite literary society known as “The Inklings,” and colleagues at Oxford University, but due to their religious and sometimes heated philosophical differences and personal struggles, a rift between them brought years of coldness and prevented collaboration, which could have been the recipe for a literary machine.

Let me be clear, my use of Tolkien’s stories is not intended to imply that his work is Christian allegory.  Tolkien himself stated in a forward for the American printing by Ballentine Books, “As for the inner meaning or message, it has none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.” Rather my intention is to use something that I enjoy, and is innate in mankind, that is, story telling, to inspire thought about the truths of our Christian faith.  I am not alone in this quest as many have gone before me.  I eagerly await the release of “The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth,” by Phillip Ryken, president of Wheaton College and former Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.  Ryken describes the story as containing “Christian symbolism and meaning.”

As followers of Christ, being created in his image, and being remade more and more like him, each of us can be read like a book.  Our behavior and conversation should overflow with Christion symbolism and meaning.  Although Tolkien describes his work as “the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of the readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them,” he leaves out what maybe the most eternally important benefit of his efforts.  This story makes you think about the real story,  your own journey within and beyond the Shire.

The Shire was basically the region and home of Bilbo and Frodo.  The village of Hobbiton, in the heart of the Shire, is the setting for the opening of the books.   The book vividly describes the fantastical scene of how the Hobbits live.  Even more so, the cinematography of the film, set in New Zealand, is amazing.  Agrarian, natural, and  peaceful tranquility is the feeling you get from what you see with your eye.  I would probably want to live in a hobbit hole, eat six meals a day, tend my garden and sing songs of peace and harmony all day long.  Wait, I think I am a hobbit!  But the reality is not always what you see. You have heard the expression “in your minds eye.”  This saying was coined long before science determined that about seventy percent of the cognitive workings of the brain are associated with sight.  In some ways sight is a handicap. People blind from birth are a testament to the untapped sources of the brain.  Their storage and recall ability is far better that those with sight. The fact that what we see is constantly bombarding our minds, we do not have the mental capacity to process and rectify all of the information we are receiving. As I have mentioned before,  being raised in the era when ADD wasn’t cool, I was not diagnosed or should I say labeled.  How ever I am easily distracted.  I’m kind of like the Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb” line that goes, “You are only coming through in waves.  Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  I have a new practice when I am listening to someone speak.   For instance when the preacher is speaking or reading scripture, I close my eyes to avoid the distraction of his visible appearance, mannerisms, or facial linguistics, smile, frown, etc., and the possible distraction of other visual stimuli such as words on a page or things around me.  This works for me, though most think I’m sleeping.

The Shire was Bilbo’s and Frodo’s safe place.  To see the image portrayed in the story, whether described in words or picture, it is easy to see why.  However this place, home to the Hobbit, or the comfort of our safe place, wherever that may be, is not home to the Christian.  Bilbo would eventually come to this conclusion.  We must as well.

2 Corinthians 5:7 is one of those often misused passages of scripture.  “We live by faith not by sight.”  Although there is truth in the abuse, for instance, when we apply this verse to the making of basic decisions every day.  If you apply it to general obedience to God’s word such as making a decision to obey God even though we do not see the wisdom in it, you are not wrong to do so.  However the true context of the verse is about eternity, heaven.  In the first five verses of this chapter Paul had been describing the fallen condition of man dwelling in the world and how heaven will be the correction to this broken inglorious situation.  In verse seven he advises the Corinthians not to base their lives on their earthly condition, what they can see, but rather to live with the knowledge of his promise, what they cannot see.  In fact he tells them that their faith is the giving of the Holy Spirit, their guarantee.

We often like, like the Hobbits, want to cling to and give great value to this world and the things in it.  I do it every time my mind drifts to what it sees.  It is the things that are invisible, the promises of God, the deposit of the Holy Spirit, that escapes my reality.  As followers of Christ we will travel through dark and dangerous adventures outside of our Shire.  When we become homesick, and truly that is what we are, we must not visualize the conceptual picture of earthly tranquility but rather trust that what we cannot visualize is our true home.