In October 2008, the USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Cape Town along with the USS Monterey with the latter to enter deployment fighting piracy off the African coast.
The Monterey moored in Cape Town and accepted visitors who received tours, and I was rather chuffed to have seen a Ticonderoga class vessel up close. There is no upper limit of cool when you see SH-60 Sea Hawks, CIWS and behold the sight of a network of doors on the deck which at any moment can be opened and missiles of fury launched and directed by a high-tech weapons system that can play chess, write a report and tie your shoelaces at the same time.
I was impressed, surrounded by sailors and Marines providing force security. My nerd instinct was to salute, but I knew that a salute would not have been the proper response as I wasn’t enlisted or in uniform and was in fact a civilian.
I have still never been anything other than a civilian. And after 11 years I finally remembered to look up what the proper response is to a sailor or Marine (or any member of the armed forces in uniform): to put one’s hand over one’s heart.
Protocol is very important in the military. It denotes respect and the recognition of authority. The junior rank will initiate the salute and the senior rank will return it, with both locking eyes as they do so.
For several weeks, I’ve been praying for those who need to get saved, and I think of their posture as those who have their backs turned to Him, perhaps not out of spite, but with their backs turned to Him all the same. I’ve been praying that they would turn their eyes towards Him and recognise His authority.
An image from the book of Genesis provides for me an illustration of the posture of those who are living apart from Him. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. They had to have known that they couldn’t really hide from him. They saw the world that He had created, the stars in the universe that He put in place, seen in the night sky. The biosphere, the robust yet intricate systems apparent to their powers of observation. They had to have known that hiding from Him who sees everything was futile.
Did they hide in a bush? In a tree? In a stream bed? I can make a guess about their hiding place, but I reckon I’m not far off when guessing their posture, looking to avoid eye contact, possibly with their backs turned to him. A tragic hide-and-seek with no mirth.
So many are like that today, seeking refuge in intellectualism, hedonism, religion. Eyes to the left or right, looking anywhere but in His. Understandably so, for to look in His eyes would be to confess shame, to acknowledge His authority.
It occurred to me that professional soldiers – in a throwback to archaic forms of respect – understand authority: possessing it, submitting to it and formulating a culture around it.
I thought immediately of the Centurion in the time of Jesus’ ministry who had a sick servant and sent a request for Jesus to heal his servant. Firstly, in that day and age, servants were commodities who were either useful or not. Why would a Gentile military man care for a servant who could be discarded? Secondly, I wondered how he came to adhere to the Spartan, martial culture of Rome, yet adopted a way of looking at the world that was culturally Jewish and in terms of faith very Biblical.
The article writer’s main point is that: “the Centurion recognized divine holiness in Jesus and sinfulness in himself and knew he was not worthy of Jesus’s presence.
He also recognized Jesus’s authority. While Jewish elders asked Jesus questions like, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23), this foreigner knew exactly who Jesus was. ”
In fact Jesus remarks that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. An outsider, adopting new ways who obtains a measure of faith greater than men who had been steeped in faith and morals since birth.
The Centurion sent a delegation to demonstrate his faith, firstly to ask for healing, then subsequently to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t even have to be near the servant to heal him. The centurion knew that authority wasn’t line of sight or within the sound of Jesus’ voice, but a real power that Jesus had to utter the command and it would be done.
The centurion’s understanding of authority and the stuff of faith impressed Jesus and it sure impresses me.
Posture is everything, in facing your fellow soldiers with respect or even your enemy. But especially your superior.
I see people in this world looking away from Him, in either disinterest, or in distraction, or in rebellion.
For some, its a prostration en masse towards Mecca and away from Christ; after all, it is written in the mosque at Al Aqsa that God has no son.
For others, it’s an intellectual embarrassment for the idea of God which to them seem so fairytale-like and excessively sentimental.
For others still, its like the reaction of Adam and Eve, people who would rather not be confronted with their own bent towards selfishness and evil.
As for me, this Easter, its eyes front, looking to Him. Looking back at a cross and an empty tomb. Looking ahead to a triumphal return.
Have you ever listened to your own recorded voice? And then thought how you sound way different than you thought you did, possibly disappointed.
If I want to, I can turn on my charm or my sense of humour, but my voice is fixed. And sometimes I wish it were deeper, as I’m a dude. One guy who doesn’t have that problem is David Suchet.
I have never watched any of the episodes of a particular whodunnit featuring Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective created in literary fiction by the legendary Agatha Christie. I knew of the actor and thespian David Suchet (who portrays Poirot) from one of my favourite action movies in the DVD cabinet, ‘Executive Decision’.
In that particular movie, Suchet plays with alarming creepiness, a mesmerizing terrorist leading the hijack of an airplane. Easily his most formidable feature is his voice. And his excessively hairy arms.
As Suchet tells it in an interview, he was irreligious, but didn’t know what to do with the passing of his grandfather, with whom he had been close. Thinking about the question of life after death – which Suchet didn’t believe in at the time – he decided to read Scripture. This in a hotel room in Seattle in 1986.
Now the article does’t say, but the question occurs to me…where might an irreligious fellow in a hotel room acquire Scripture? Perhaps the Gideons? Suchet began to read Paul’s letter to the Romans and upon reading the eighth chapter that was when he found faith.
No fancy Christian movie, no contemporary Christian song, simply reading Scripture.
There have been times when I have been floored after reading a verse or a passage, but no recent time that I can think of. Recently, I started watching a Louie Giglio series called ‘Breath on a page’. He begins from the verse about all Scripture being inspired:
There are a lot of books out there in the world. Some are there for entertainment, some for instruction (like how to do something), but the author always wants to take us to a conclusion using words. Scripture is the only book God wrote, and it is alive.
Giglio’s first sermon out of the gate has the setting from Nehemiah chapter 8.
To set the scene, Nehemiah wanted to rebuild Jerusalem as the people had been carried away into captivity and the city was defenceless. Having asked permission from the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, where Nehemiah was also in exile, he set out to rebuild Jerusalem, first organizing some fellow exiles to rebuild the wall, and soon thereafter to gather in a city square to listen to Scripture being read by Ezra the priest from first light until noon.
They were a people of the Book, who needed to be reacquainted with what it said.
The people listening to the Bible being read had a notable reaction: they wept, because they realized they had not been living according to what Scripture said. That’s because Scripture is living and active. They had no option but to change the way they had been living.
Scripture plus a human heart plus the Holy Spirit is a reaction. Without Scripture or the Holy Spirit, my spiritual life is inert.
This week it rained and I was thinking about Giglio’s sermon and the plants back at home that were receiving the rain and I remembered this verse:
God’s word is alive and is like rain that causes sprouting and growing wherever it falls.
The Harry Potter series is not alive. The Qur’an is not alive. The Communist Manifesto is not alive. The latest John Grisham legal drama may be entertaining, but it is just words on a page. Not alive. Not breath. Not God’s breath.
God’s word is breath on a page leading to a change in the human heart.
And yet I’m preaching at myself here a little…there are levels to interacting with Scripture:
- first reading it, then
- second meditating on it, then
- lastly applying it.
Sitting down, knuckling under and reading Scripture is comparatively easy (you can do it on your Smart-phone). Skim reading is one thing, its quite another to meditate on Scripture, to mull over it and let it brew like a tea bag left in the cup and swished around by the spoon. Its even more difficult to take the next step and after having meditated on Scripture, to be diligent about applying it.
Honestly, I struggle often with simply booking some time to simply just read Scripture. I haven’t opened my big Bible since Sunday and its now Saturday. You might say – in a poor attempt at a joke – that I’ve been ‘phoning it in’, reading short verses on the Smart-phone.
Which is why church is so essential, you get to make time, open up your big Bible, and sit under its teaching. Kind of like what Ezra and Nehemiah did all those years ago. Good ideas always work, whether in Nehemiah’s time or now.