The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Christian Living (page 1 of 18)

Asleep In The Storm

There are a couple of different instances recorded in the gospels where Jesus and His disciples are caught up in a storm while on the Sea of Galilee. Both of these are fascinating stories, and they have a way of captivating the imagination.

Matthew 14 recounts the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s stumbling efforts to walk towards Him. He succeeds for a moment, but then, overwhelmed by the waves and the wind around him, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus rescues him, rebukes his faith, gets into the boat, and the storm ceases. It is a fascinating event from the life of Jesus, and one from which we can undoubtedly learn much, but it is actually the other “storm” story I want to focus on.

This one drawn from Luke 8/Matthew 8/Mark 4 is likely familiar to you as well. Jesus and His disciples are out on the sea when a storm arises. The disciples are alarmed, and seemingly with good reason—the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was filling (Mark 4.37), swamped (Matthew 8.24), and they were in danger (Luke 8.23).

But Jesus was unconcerned, even unaware (or so it seemed) of their plight—He was asleep on a cushion in the boat. Asleep in the storm.

In such circumstances, the apostles do what seems sensible to them in the moment. They awaken Jesus, and in the face of His seeming lack of concern, ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In light of the life, teachings, service, and, ultimately, the sacrifice of Jesus, it seems like a ludicrous question, but imprisoned in the circumstances of the moment, it seemed like a fair question to the disciples. Jesus was asleep; He didn’t seem to care. He seemed absent from their sufferingOf course, we know the truth: He was there all along.

•  •  •

If I am honest, I can identify with the apostles here more than I might like to admit. As I have written recently, this has been a tough year for my daughter. She has experienced seizures for most of her life, but this year they have gotten worse, and we have struggled to control them. What’s worse, the frequency of the seizures and/or the many medications she is on to try to control them has led to a lessening of her energy, a muting of her (delightful) personality, and even some regressions in the abilities she has worked so hard to develop over the last few years.

Some days are better, with fewer seizures, more energy, and more personality, but other days are really hard. The emotional roller coaster is exhausting. This has been our situation for several months, despite the constant prayers of Caroline and myself and the faithful intercession on her behalf from countless friends and family (both physical and spiritual). You could say that we are experiencing our own “storm” right now, and have been for a while.

At times, it feels like we are drowning with grief, about to capsize, and the question the apostles asked Jesus seems like an appropriate one: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” It can seem that God is absent.

The other day, I read through Luke’s version of the story recorded above, and it struck me in a way I had never thought of before (which, by the way, is one of the remarkable things about Scripture—as you read it and reread it, new insights constantly avail themselves to us; it is a transformative book!). So often in life, when we are living through a storm, we ask God to take it away from us, and when He doesn’t, we are left to wonder whether He cares about us at all.

But I think Luke 8 offers us a different perspective—in the midst of the storm, Jesus is neither distant, nor uncaring. He is right there with us, in the boat, riding out the storm. His seeming absence obscures His glorious presence. And while He certainly has the power to take the storm away (and we earnestly pray that He does so!), He asks us for faith, faith that His presence will protect us from being overwhelmed by the storms of life.

Journey of Faith

You’ve likely heard the common saying, “Life is not about the destination; it’s about the journey,” or some variation thereof. It may be somewhat cliche, and to an extent, I think it sets up an unnecessary either/or situation. From a Christian perspective, I life is very much about a journey and a destination. Scripture speaks of life as a sojourn (see especially Hebrews 11, 13), but it’s a journey headed to a specific destination. As Christians, we yearn for an eternal home with our Creator, where crying, mourning, and pain are no longer a part of our existence. And yet, Scripture is very clear that whether or not we reach that destination is directly tied to the way in which we travel our earthly lives.

I appreciate the journey metaphor as I look back on my own life as a believer. I am still relatively young, but what a journey it has been! It has been characterized by exhilarating peaks and depressing valleys. Seemingly, there have been few straight stretches where I could confidently see what was coming next, and a lot of twists and turns where the future was impossible to predict.

Interestingly, I also can see how my faith itself has changed over the years. That shouldn’t be surprising—as a Christian I believe (and as a minister, I teach!) that God’s Spirit indwells His people and works to sanctify them, and, furthermore, that Scripture is something we study not just for information, but for transformation: God’s word is living and active, after all (Hebrews 4.12). That is not to say that I have reached a point of exceptional maturity in my faith, or that I have everything figured out. I certainly don’t, and remember, the point of this post is to emphasize the journey aspect of faith, so I in no way want to give the impression that I have somehow arrived. I haven’t.

And yet, in hindsight, I can see how far I have traveled. I can remember (with significant chagrin) the degree to which, as a college freshman, I felt that I had things pretty well figured out. I can remember having long discussions deep into the night with my roommate (who also happened to be my brother-cousin, a made-up category which best describes our relationship) where I would dogmatically assert all kinds of things. In one particularly cringeworthy conversation, I confidently declared that someone who committed suicided was automatically lost—an assertion I made with the vast knowledge and experience of an 18 year-old and with no biblical authority whatsoever! My roommate gently pushed back against my declaration, but at the time, I did not have “ears to hear.”

As I have aged and hopefully become wiser and grown deeper in my faith (see above), I have changed my mind  on some things and I have found that their are fewer religious doctrines that are deeply important to me, but that the ones that are have become more important than ever. Or, put in other words, not everything is worth fighting for, but some things are worth dying for.

In terms of my own faith journey, I do not know what the future holds. Based on the past, I bet there will be thrilling highs, crushing lows, and unexpected turns along the way. I expect that there will be changing perspectives, reconsidered positions, and core truths that do not change, but are gradually driven deeper and deeper. I pray that there will be increasing wisdom and spiritual maturity, and I hope—in the biblical sense of the word as confident expectation—that my journey of faith will lead to the destination which Christians have been seeking for thousands of years.

(Not) Praying in the Garden

On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospels tell a familiar story (Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46). Jesus, in great distress about what He knows will soon happen to him, takes Peter, James, and John with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be in prayer and then withdraws to pray by Himself.

Jesus’ prayer is famously filled with agony and desperation: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He comes back to check on his friends, and finds them all asleep. He rebukes them, and withdraws again, praying the same prayer. Then He returns to find them asleep again, and the pattern repeats again a third time.

After the third time, a mob arrives and arrests Jesus, and as He predicted, His disciples flee in fear.

Conjecture: might it be that Jesus was strengthened by His night in prayer with the Father, and was thus now steeled to face the ordeal of mockery, torture, and death that loomed before Him? And as the same time, could it be that in their slumber, the disciples deprived themselves of the means to remain faithful to Jesus during the hour of trial?

As Christians, we pray to change circumstances and events around us, but we also pray (or maybe even, we primarily pray) to change us. Prayer helps to bring our wills in line with God’s will, to strengthen our resolve, and to quiet our fears. I have a hunch that if Peter, James, and John had heeded Jesus’s request to pray with Him on that fateful night, their behavior during the trying times that followed might have been very different.

James A. Harding once said, “[Prayer] is an enormous power, the mightiest that can be used by a mortal, that few of us use as we could and should.”[1] When we sleep (literally or metaphorically) instead of pray, what transformation do we miss out on? In what moments of trial do we desert our Lord because our resolve has not been strengthened in prayer as it could be?


[1] James A. Harding, “Does God Answer Prayer?” Christian Leader and the Way 19 (September 19, 1905), 8.

Abolition & the Stone-Campbell Movement: James O’Kelly’s Essay on Negro-Slavery

I have written before about the unfortunate fact that there were some Christians in the antebellum South who used the Bible to justify the practice of slavery. I argued that they were wrong to do so on at least two grounds:

  1. They failed to see a distinction between the ancient slavery described and regulated in the bible and the race-based chattel slavery of the U.S. colonies and Southern states that was basically “man-stealing,” something the Bible expressly forbade (Exodus 21.16).
  2. They failed to see the profound argument set forth by Paul in the Letter to Philemon. Here, he does not seek to abolish all slavery in the Roman Empire, but instead seeks to get one man to understand the radical implications of the Christian message: slave owners should view their slaves as Christian brothers and sisters (or at least, as potential brothers and sisters) in the family of God, and to treat them accordingly. In such a family where all are equally servants of God, there is no place for slavery.

Thankfully, many Christians were not wrong on these points, and were actually at the forefront of the fight for the abolition of slavery. One prominent abolitionist (in fact, he was one of the first clergymen to write an anti-slavery publication) was James O’Kelly (1735-1826), who is of particular interest to me (and many of my readers) because of his connection to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

O’Kelly was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in North Carolina in the 1770s and 1780s. O’Kelly withdrew from the Methodist Church in 1792 over matters of church polity, and founded the Republican Methodist Church, which later became a part of the Christian Connexion. Some of the members of this group later became a part of the Stone-Campbell Movement (though O’Kelly himself died before the Stone and Campbell groups united). You can read more about him here.

In 1789, O’Kelly wrote Essay on Negro-Slavery, in which he published his strong anti-slavery views. Abilene Christian University has a digital scan of this work available for free download, and I enjoyed reading this short publication last summer. O’Kelly writes forcefully and well. I have included some quotations from the work below, along with some of my own thoughts.

First, O’Kelly didn’t actually desire to write about such a topic, but felt compelled to do so:

“Not that I looked upon it as difficult to prove the injustice of slavery, for a man of half sense can see that; but I was reluctant to become an author. Yet the word of the Lord, whenever I thought of declining, would burn like fire in my bones, and rob me of my sleep.” [“To the Reader”]

He seeks to help his audience feel empathy, as he describes the horrible practice of the breaking up of families in slave markets, and the inhumane treatment that slaves at times received from their masters:

“O husbands, who have tender wives and precious children, can you acquiesce with a law that tolerates a practices so inhuman, which enslaves human creatures who have as much right to their natural liberty as to their common air?” [9]

“A master who drank to excess, one morning, lately, took his man-slave, and hoisted and weighed him by a tobacco-beam fixed between his legs, another standing on the beam to increase the pain; beat, cut, and lashed him, till the blood poured down in streams: the slave begged for mercy, but in vain; then spake in a soft manner to the tyrant, saying, master, you have killed me. He then lifted up his eyes to Heaven and expired.” [9]

Beyond an emotional level, O’Kelly addresses the issue of slavery from a theological perspective:

“When GOD called Abraham (Gen. xii) he preached the gospel to him, saying, “In thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,”—Africa not excepted.” [15]

“The Son of GOD did not come to destroy lives, but to save. Neither did he come to enslave men’s persons, but to preach the great jubilee. Involuntary slavery directly opposes the benevolent purposes of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is the pure undefiled religion, gathering proselytes from every nation into one fold. The Christian, who through the Spirit hath received a divine nature, even the mind of Christ, hath learned of his great master to be meek to his countrymen, neighbors and brethren, and the inhabitants of the remotest regions as well as of the nearest. He calls no man common or unclean. He is like his Father and his Master, whose sun shines upon the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the just and the unjust.” [17]

O’Kelly also does not shy away from the difficult issue of the practical consequences of emancipation. With blacks subjugated for so long and deprived of education and a means of building up personal wealth, what would happen to them if they were suddenly freed? O’Kelly acknowledges this problem and suggests that a gradual emancipation would be best, but with the clear understanding that the very people who have created this problem through enslaving others need to be involved in helping former slaves to live as independent, self-sufficient free people:

“You say, “they are poor and having to begin upon, how can they live, if free?” This objection is stronger than all. They are the poorest people that mine eyes ever saw. you shall take every rag of clothing that is on a thousand, and put them in the road as free plunder, and hardly a free-man would alight from his horse to pick them up! But why such poverty? Where is all their labour that you have got? Your objections make your injustice only more glaring. You are the cause of their poverty. Will you rob a man of his all, and then out of pity make a slave of him, because he has nothing to begin upon? Perhaps the grand objection lies here. “What shall we do?” Only let a gradual emancipation commence, from the pure love of GOD and man in our christian brethren, and that glorious example will influence the civil powers. Reward them for their labour; encourage good behaviour; subject them to your laws; let them have interest to study, and our country will not want hands to till the earth with comfort; their minds will be no longer so contracted: the activity of the magistrates will suppress the flagitiousness of white and black. The natural genius of the people will soon appear.” [26]

“If your present situation is such that you cannot liberate your captives without defrauding your creditors, or reducing your family into deep distress; acknowledge the wrong detention, converse with your dear preachers who feel for you, and emancipate them in a more gradual manner; and we shall rejoice in your sincerity, and acknowledge you as dear brethren in Christ.” [31]

 

In many ways this was not an enjoyable read, as it described and decried a terrible practice in a dark period of our national history. However, it was inspiring to read the thoughts of someone like O’Kelly who, thoroughly infused with the principles of the Gospel, was willing to buck the trends of his time and take a stand for justice and righteousness. Furthermore, the knowledge that he was in some sense a spiritual ancestor of mine was a simultaneous source of pride and hope.

Honest Thoughts from a Hospital Room

I am writing from my daughter’s room at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, following her successful VNS surgery this morning. It is well after midnight; Caroline is asleep, and Kinsley is trying to be. It is an excellent time for reflection.

I am not writing the following to elicit sympathy from those who read it, nor am I seeking “cheering up”. I don’t want to come across as whiny or depressing; rather, I write in the hope that my (honest) ramblings may provide some encouragement to others.


Over the last few years, our ongoing struggles with Kinsley—learning about her brain abnormalities, receiving a diagnosis, traveling extensively to see specialists, attempting to manage her seizures, dealing with her daily special needs—have led to countless people telling us something to the effect of, “You guys are such amazing parents,” or “Your faith is such a great example to us.”

Those are kind words with kind intentions behind them, but sometimes they can be frustrating as well. You see, we didn’t ask to have the opportunity to be such wonderful parents, or to have the platform to wrestle with our faith in such a way that we can be good examples for others. And furthermore, to be frank, sometimes we really don’t feel like wonderful parents or great examples at all. We feel that we do no more than anyone else would in our shoes, we feel helpless—completely unable to do anything to help our little girl, and we feel so very, very tired—tired of seizures, tired of doctor appointments, and tired of our sweet princess having to deal with more than she should ever have to.

And yet…if God can somehow use our helpless and tired efforts to bring encouragement to someone else or to shine a ray of light into a dark world…praise the Lord. Truly, what wondrous things He accomplishes through human weakness.

What a blessing!


Although I do not find myself particularly inclined to do so, it sometimes can be tempting for those in full-time ministry to look down upon those who engage in “secular” work (you may even hear that terminology from time to time).

Over the last few years, as we have been on the receiving end of such amazing care from so many therapists (basically our favorite people ever), nurses, doctors, teachers, aides, etc., it has deeply reinforced in my own mind how sacred it is to use your vocation as a means of blessing others. God’s work is done in all sorts of places, and I am deeply grateful for those who have so clearly shown me that as we have traveled this journey.

What a blessing!


Throughout this process, there are times when I feel that I am at my wit’s end. Completely overwhelmed. Barely able to keep my head above water. Emotionally stressed. Spiritually fatigued. Physically exhausted.

Increasingly, I have come to suspect that we are sustained by prayer. Certainly our own prayers, but, in light of the spiritual fatigue I mentioned above, my prayers are not exactly great right now—they consist of a lot of sighs and pleadings and persistence and “groanings too deep for words”.

No, I believe that we are especially sustained by the prayers of others. From the beginning, it has been overwhelming to me the way that others have responded to our situation. It is beyond humbling to know that people from all over the world, including many we don’t even personally know, are praying for us. More than that, more people than I can count have told me that they pray for Kinsley and our family every day. How can I even respond to that? What a gift that is!

I am so deeply, deeply grateful. And beyond the prayers—every single kindness means so much: the kind words and messages we receive, the concerned questions people ask, the social media well-wishings, the silent hugs, the money for travel expenses slipped into a handshake—all of it. People extend us so much love so frequently, that it is all I can do to refrain from constantly bursting into tears (because that would be awkward, right?).

But those are healing tears—tears belonging to a Kingdom that seeks to restore the goodness of a broken world.

What a blessing!

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