Differing Measures

One of the largest and most powerful warships of its day, and the pride of Gustav II Adolf, the King of Sweden, was launched on August 10, 1628. The “Vasa, named after the ruling Vasa Dynasty, boasted an array of 64 bronze cannons, was crewed by 150 sailors and capable of carrying some 300 soldiers. She was in excess of 200 feet in length with a displacement of over 1,400 tons. With over 13,000 square feet of sail, this 17th century vessel was a force to be reckoned with.

An excited public watched and celebrated along the shores of Strömmen, as the great ship prepared to depart on its maiden voyage. On that particular Sunday morning, the Vasa hosted over a hundred crew members, along with family and guests, which were allowed to join the ship for the first leg of its passage through the Archipelago.

Incredibly, after having been under construction for over two years, the maiden voyage lasted only twenty minutes. The Vasa traveled less than one mile before a gust of wind unexpectedly caused the ship to heel over to its port side. The resulting massive flooding, as water rushed into the open lower gun ports, sank the ship within minutes, taking with it the lives of thirty people.

Subsequent inquests spread the blame for the untimely sinking amid a variety of people and causes, but no one cause or person was identified as the primary reason for the ship’s demise; the inquest concluded that the ship was “inherently unstable.” The actual mechanical reasons that caused the instability of the Vasa would remain entombed with the ship for nearly four hundred years.

In 1961, the remains of the incredibly well preserved Vasa were located and raised, and over a period of several years the ship was restored and ultimately placed in a Swedish museum for others to view and study. Archeologists studying the Vasa identified several factors that might have contributed to the ship’s sinking; including a lack of adequate ballast and a top heavy design. But these factors by themselves did not possess sufficient explanatory power to fully explain Vasa’s hasty demise.

In June of 2012, a major four year study was completed in the hopes of identifying the source of her instability. The study was headed by Vasa Museum’s director of research Fred Hocker. The project set out to document and measure all the timbers used in the construction of the Vasa. Doing so required the team to map some 80,000 separate points on the ship, using advanced digital 3D technology.

To their surprise, after analyzing the data, the project team learned that the ship was actually built in an asymmetric shape.

The ship was built lopsided.

In this case, there were more ship building materials on the port side of the ship, than on the starboard side. If this had been unknown at the time of construction, then the ship would indeed have been highly unstable, and likely to roll to the left side when faced with a strong wind or rough ocean.

But how did such an error, which resulted in this unstable shape, insert itself into the final construction work at the shipyard?

As part of their examination of the Vasa, Hocker and his team had earlier discovered within the ship, four rulers left behind by the original shipbuilders. The significance of this piece of historical evidence had not been fully understood at the time of its discovery. But that would change.

Upon careful examination, it turned out that these rulers were based on two different measurement standards.

The team also determined from historical records that the carpenters who built the Vasa, originated from both Holland and Sweden.

Two of the rulers were in Swedish feet and the others were in Amsterdam feet, which were slightly different in lengths. As the ship was being built, it was speculated that each carpenter used their own measuring standard to cut the timbers used for the ship.

Because no single objective measuring standard was used, the resulting vessel that was built came out lopsided and therefore highly unstable. This final part of the puzzle provided the last explanatory piece of data to close out the mystery behind the mighty Vasa’s demise.

Scientists concluded that the lopsided ship tended to naturally lean to its port side, because it was built based upon two different definitions of how long a “foot” was, and when the gust of wind arose on that fateful day, the ship simply keeled over to its naturally heavy side. Because the ship was not balanced properly, and was considered top heavy, when the water flooded in, it was not able to recover and return to an upright position. Instead it remained on its side and immediately sank.

Thankfully, in today’s world, we generally have agreement on objective standards to determine how long a foot is, how much volume a gallon actually contains, or how hot or cold something might be. Having objective standards allows us to operate in a predictable and safe manner.

But are such objective standards limited only to physical attributes in our lives? What about behavioral standards of conduct that govern how we relate to God and one another? Are there objective standards available for us to live our lives by? If so, what are the consequences of attempting to live outside of God’s ideal for us?

Jesus was once asked by a religious official, with respect to the laws and commandments they lived by, which one was the most important? Jesus responded by citing not one, but two commandments; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31)

In his response Jesus looked past the legalistic and religious intent of this official, and responded by summarizing all of the commandments into two simple objective relationship truths.

In essence, these principles state that the most important relationship we could ever have is the one we have with God. We need to give our all to God, our heart, Soul, and Mind. If that relationship is healthy, we will have the foundation to carry out the second great relationship truth, and that would be to love those around us and to love ourselves. Choosing to adopt God’s objective truths about relationships permits us to live our lives fully, as Jesus intended us to do. (John 10:10)

Of course, when we as a people choose to reject God’s truth claims, and substitute our own personal truths, our relationships in this life inevitably become unstable. In the end, by choosing to use a multitude of differing “measurement rulers” to live by, we are left with no objective standard to assess what is healthy in our relationships, no basis in which to grapple with real world issues. Instead we are armed only with a shifting social framework, dictated by the winds of an ever changing public opinion. Frequently God’s “Truth” with a capital “T” becomes lost in the myriad of individual truths, with a lowercase “t.”

No one has to be a sociological expert to recognize that we live in an incredibly unstable society. For the most part, much of our society has accepted, as normative, a variety of unhealthily relationship models that lie outside of what God desired for his creation. Additionally, our news is filled with stories of theft, corruption and embezzlement, along with a seemingly endless list of violent acts that we as humans seem so easily and capable of perpetrating upon one another.

Yet despite all of our poor choices, Jesus still loves us. (Romans 5:8) He knows that true love can only be true, if the object of his love responds willingly and voluntarily to Him and his offer of an eternal relationship. With that relationship, and obedience to God’s objective truths, come peace and purpose in this life. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

God will never force his plan for our eternal salvation upon us. It becomes our choice entirely as to how we will choose to respond to His love for us. Our behaviors are ultimately a product of our choices. Our choices a product of what we believe is true.

In this life we have the choice to either humble ourselves and willingly trust and obey God’s objective truths, or to trade these truths for our own contrived, and often self-serving concepts of truth with predictable results. (John 3:19)

How do I want to live and build my life? Do I want a life built like the Vasa was built, with many differing standards, or will I anchor my life securely in God, resting upon His set of objective principles as revealed in the Scriptures?

Picking The Teams

It might have been September or early October, I can’t remember for sure, far too many years have transpired by now for me to be exactly confident of the date, I just know it was the Fall shortly after school started and I was in the fourth grade.

It was hot, the fields around the elementary school were dry, the grass on the hills devoid of any sign of green, save that of a few hearty Oak trees. I squinted as the sun beat down on me and my twenty or so classmates as we stood noisily in a row out on the blacktop. An occasional flash of yellow could be seen as the wings of a grasshopper would momentarily appear when the shadow of a child frightened it into flight.

Two boys, the most athletic of the class, were standing in front of us, carefully evaluating the pool of potential kickball teammates.

I hated this part.

The part where one after the other the kids would all be picked. Each Team Captain would take turns, back and forth, pointing to one of us to join their team. Soon there would only be one left.

Mostly that was me.

Just when I thought the experience would be over, the real dread and humiliation phase would begin. The conversation would typically shift from picking teammates to a negotiation between captains as to which team would be stuck with me.

This was worse than simply being last. I knew I was nothing but the kid with the crooked teeth, kinda gangly, and holding no appreciable athletic skills. I wasn’t particularly very good at anything, even academics. Eventually the teacher, against the visible and at times audible protest of one or both of the team captains, would put me on one of the teams.

Years later, I learned that unlike my elementary school team captains, when God is the team captain, He doesn’t  look at abilities or talents (Something that comes from God anyway), or how one outwardly appears. Rather he looks with great compassion at the heart.

Many examples of God’s choices are illustrated in the Scriptures. By any standards other than God’s, none of these individuals would have made the cut given the assignment that God had in mind for them. In one instance, God chose a young boy that was nothing but a simple shepherd, yet he grew up to become a great king (2 Samuel 2:1-7), God also chose a guy named Moses, who never led anything but sheep in a pasture, to lead God’s people out of captivity from the Egyptians. (Exodus 3) Later, God trusted a prostitute by the name of Rahab, who probably spent a lifetime never trusting anyone, to protect Joshua and his men from certain capture. (Joshua 2)

God continued to choose in like manner, when he came to us as Jesus. He chose lowly fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), a disrespected tax collector (Mark 2:14), and others that society generally held in very low regard to serve as His early disciples. These twelve and ultimately countless others would serve as the engine that propelled the gospel of Christ into virtually every part of the world; the message of God’s gift of eternal life ultimately bridged virtually all social and economic barriers.

When I was sixteen, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to worry about abilities, talents, or good looks when it came to having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, there was nothing I had in my life that I could offer to God except myself and a willing heart.

I realized then, that Jesus had already picked me to join His team, He had all along. He had been knocking on the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20) and asking me to open that door and allow Him to enter my life. I had simply not opened the door. One evening I made the intentional choice to respond to His gentle knock, his open arms, and accepted the fullest expression of His love for me through his death and resurrection.

That evening, I prayed and surrendered my life to Jesus. I trusted that the work He did on the cross was sufficient, and in that moment I officially joined His team.

I’ve never looked back. It was and remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My eyes became open to the world in ways I had never thought possible. It was very much like having transitioned from seeing the world in black and white, to seeing the world from God’s perspective, in full color with a greater understanding. God has since done things in my life that I could never have done on my own; He has blessed me in more ways than I could count. And best of all, I have the assurance that I will get to experience Him for eternity!! Death and the fear of death no longer have mastery over my life.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and help us live it to the full. This is how God intended us to live our lives out.(John 10:10) Sure we’ll still face difficulties, troubles, heartaches, and all that comes with life, Jesus told us we would, but we’ll never be alone for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

In the final analysis, I came to realize that I was picked by an eternal team captain that leads His team to victory through his boundless love, compassion, and sacrifice of self.

Remembering the True Enemy

“Katniss, when you are in the arena, you just remember who the true enemy is.”
― Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

When I visit with my Mom at her nursing home, we talk about a variety of topics. Often these topics are the same ones we covered in previous visits, although from her perspective they’re all new.

Despite her loss of memory, I’ve noticed that almost every visit incorporates some type of discussion around spiritual matters. We’ll talk about various passages in the Bible that she will bring up; each of us sharing our thoughts and ideas about a particular passage.

The last time we met, we spoke of a passage in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus encountered a woman from the Samaritan town of Sychar.

Jesus of course was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. Historically, these two peoples did not see eye to eye, in fact, a great deal of animosity and friction existed between both groups based upon events far back in history. Things were so bad that they could hardly be in proximity to one another, and would not typically speak to each other or accept food or drink from one another.

Jesus initiated conversation with her, and in doing so, broke social protocol by simply asking for a cup of water. With this, their dialogs begin, and soon thereafter she learned who Jesus really was, the promised messiah; God who came to save those that would place their faith in Him. She quickly saw his love and compassion, how it spanned and overcame all of the history of hate, hurt, and mindless harm that had come between the two people groups.

As my mom and I shared about this passage, we begin to imagine what a scene that must have been. What peace and joy that must have existed in that town as they experienced firsthand, the love and grace of God. Many lives were forever changed in the days that followed as the townspeople came to recognize and place their trust in Jesus. Old ways of thinking died, and new ways begin.

For some, it may have been the first time they’d realized that their common enemy was not found in their history of hate and distrust of each other, but rather, it was sin, a condition that caused an absence of a personal relationship with God, and allowed the effects of evil to cloud their minds and hearts.

Scriptures remind us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” rather our struggle is truly against the “spiritual forces of evil.” It was evil that kept hatred and anger alive between the Jews and Samaritans for many years, blinding them to the truth about God and His love for them.

As I’ve looked at the headlines during the past few weeks, my heart has been profoundly, yet unsurprisingly saddened, to see how little we have progressed in two thousand years since that unique encounter in the town of Sychar.

Regrettably, sin and evil feature prominently in our news and daily lives, but the scriptures offer hope, news of a different sort. The real Christmas story, is the story of God coming to this hurting world in the person of Jesus. He went on to overcome evil at the most basic level, and to bring us into a right relationship with Him.

I pray that as we celebrate Christmas this year…that we not only remember the real reason we celebrate, but that we also never forget “who the true enemy is.”

(“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Excerpt from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.)

Followers

An interesting phenomenon has developed over the past several years.

It’s the idea of “followers.”

It’s really quiet an interesting study of social behavior.

Internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vines, blogs such as this one, and others have built into their structure, this idea of having “followers.” People in the internet world simply click “follow” as an indicator that they are interested in what you are publishing or saying.

They then become a follower.

The system has become so normative across so many social platforms that it has been monetized. In the case of YouTube for instance, users with large followings can actually be paid for growing the number of followers that are active on their account.

Gaining visibility is the name of the game, and in our society, it would seem that the stranger, the more bizarre one can become, the more followers one can obtain.

It has been said that one of the strongest and most important psychological traits for the average person, is the importance of being accepted by others. Many have stumbled on this one trait. We often mistakenly attach it to our self-worth.

There are those whose measure of success in life is counted by the number of followers they have attracted. Such a perspective appeals too those who believe their personal value lies in the quantity of the followers they have accumulated.

Now that we have made “following” a metric on the internet, by monitoring and in some cases receiving payments for the number of followers we have, one has to wonder about the effect on the individual, and eventually society as a whole.

Yet the idea of social popularity and followers was a struggle long before the internet showed up.

The Scriptures record this about Jesus; that “a great crowd of people ‘followed’ him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.” (John 6:2)

Many followed Jesus in His day because of what they saw him doing. It was unusual. Healing the chronically ill or feeding thousands from a few meager loaves of bread and a few fish, that type of news traveled fast, even in AD 33.

Thankfully Jesus was not the selfish and insecure individual that needed to do whatever he could do to get more people to follow Him. In fact, scriptures record that he didn’t go with the popularity model; rather he lived in reality and presented truth, truth that was often hard for a self-centered society to hear. (Some things haven’t changed much…)

When it comes to popularity, people are fickle creatures. A few verses later in the same chapter, we see that when Jesus began to share on a deeper level, a level that required life changes, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)

The tendency today is to focus on fitting in at all costs. The internet has brought to the social table great visibility, and to a certain extent, another channel of social pressure to help us conform to the latest social cause or fad.

It takes real strength of character to be willing to follow Jesus, to not worry about what others think. It takes fortitude to stand up against the majority who believe that “might makes right”, that truth is whatever fifty-one percent of the people think is truth.

I think one only needs to see the news to see how well that system is working.

Thankfully Jesus is always available to us. He is the God of “do-overs” and “fresh starts.” Jesus tells us that we need only to choose to follow Him, and by doing so, we must choose to un-follow the alternatives.

Take a moment right now, think about your life. How’s it going? Are you taking the wide easy road, the road that everyone else is traveling on? Deep down, how satisfying has that choice been?

Do you want to start over, do a do-over in your life?

Here’s how:

  1. Admit to God that you have been traveling on the wrong road of life. That you’ve been living a life that has not been honoring to Him.
  2. Agree to do a total U-Turn in your life. To abandon a lifestyle that has never really satisfied you down deep. Redo your priorities, so that God is at the center of every part of your life. Tell God that you love Him and that you will follow Him all the days of your life! (Even when it’s not the popular thing to do! )
  3. If you do this as an act of faith, then the scriptures tell us that “Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!”

You can talk to God by praying, using your own words. There is no special formula. Just pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:

“Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”