Friday, December 19, 2014

Lembas, the Bread of Life

Now as the blackness of night returned Frodo sat, his head between his knees, his arms hanging wearily to the ground where his hands lay feebly twitching. Sam watched him, till night covered them both and hid them from one another. He could no longer find any words to say; and he turned to his own dark thoughts. As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, he still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam's mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.

 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Book SIX, Chapter III, Mount Doom

What an amazing power Tolkien has given to lembas! A quick study of it will tell you all about its origins and how it was made. Check out Lembas on the Tolkien Gateway website for an interesting read. One of the things you'll find is that the word lembas is Sindarin (one of the languages of the Elves) from the older lenn-mbass meaning journey-bread. In Quenya (another language of the Elves), it is called coimas which means life-bread.

Outside of the Elves, other races were seldom given lembas; but Frodo and Sam obtained it from Galadriel, who gave it to them at the beginning of their perilous quest. It would literally keep them alive and feed their will to carry on. Otherwise, they would have given up and died!

Interestingly, lembas is vile to evil creatures such as Gollum and the Orcs. They cannot stand it.

When I think of how lembas works, I cannot help but think of how Christ Jesus and his Word play the same role in my life. In fact, the Bible records this declaration of Jesus: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

Jesus feeds my will, gives me the strength to endure, and helps me accomplish things beyond mortal ability. Seriously, when I am serving people in my community, there are times in my natural body I have felt completely drained, having worshiped God with all my strength, and yet I gain a divine second or third wind to carry forward until the work is done and I can finally rest my head.

The potency of lembas is increased when it is not mingled with any other foods. I see this true also when I adhere to the authority of Holy Scripture and do not mix Truth with worldly philosophy. When I doubt and debate with God, I get weaker in spirit; but when I believe by faith what God has said, and press ahead through prayer and trust in him alone, his power increases in me.

I have also found that those who oppose the will of God are offended by Jesus Christ and his Word. It is vile to them and they cannot stand it. They will not have it. Even the mention of Biblical truth brings up distaste in their mouth (and I'm not talking about shoving it down their throat, only the casual mention of it). I've even heard some express it in that exact way. "I think I just threw up in my mouth," they say in response to any traditional or fundamental interpretation of Scripture.

But there are many, like myself, who are well blessed to have found the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Spiritually I am more satisfied than I've ever been and I would never want to go on this long and perilous journey called life without him. If you haven't already, you should try coming to him and believing in him. I believe you'll find his promise to be true! You will never go hungry or thirst again.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Power to Follow

Then Aragorn led the way, and such was the strength of his will in that hour that all the Dúnedain and their horses followed him. And indeed the love that the horses of the Rangers bore for their riders was so great that they were willing to face even the terror of the Door, if their master's hearts were steady as they walked beside them. But Arod, the horse of Rohan, refused the way, and he stood sweating and trembling in a fear that was grievous to see. Then Legolas laid his hands on his eyes and sang some words that went soft in the gloom, until he suffered himself to be led, and Legolas passed in. And there stood Gimli the Dwarf left all alone.

His knees shook, and he was wroth with himself. 'Here is a thing unheard of!' he said. 'An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!' With that he plunged in. But it seemed to him that he dragged his feet like lead over the threshold; and at once a blindness came upon him, even upon Gimli Glóin's son who had walked unafraid in many deep places of the world. 

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Chapter II

Following Aragorn was the errand of the Rangers, Legolas, Gimli, and the horses. It was not their duty to face the terror of the Door and take the Paths of the Dead; it was Aragorn's. So, why did they go with him? How did they muster the courage to follow him into a mountain haunted by ghosts?

In the passage above, several things are made plain about each follower:

  • The Dúnedain and their horses followed because of Aragorn's great strength of will.
  • The horses of the Rangers followed because of great love for their riders.
  • The horse Arod followed only after the touch of Legolas upon his eyes, along with words sung to him.
  • Gimli the Dwarf followed when he couldn't bear the thought of an Elf being more courageous than he to go underground; Dwarves were made for such things!

Earlier in the chapter, the Lady Éowyn gives one more motivation for the followers of Aragorn. She says to the returning king, They go only because they would not be parted from thee - because they love thee.

In life we will take up many errands to follow. We won't always play the role of the leader, nor should we. Others will have duties that do not belong to us, yet we will give ourselves to aid them because of our relationship and bond with them. We will let them lead us.

Love is one of our greatest motivators. It gives us the power to follow a leader. But before that, comes strength of will demonstrated by the leader. It is hard to follow someone who is not resolute, even when we love them. Therefore, the full power to follow is only realized when there is love for a leader who demonstrates great strength of will. Or is that really the full power?

Gimli gives us one more ounce of motivation: knowing who we are.

It has been said that the two most important moments in a person's life are the day they are born and the day they find out why they were born. When we begin to understand deeply how we entered the world, why we are here, what we are capable of, and where we are headed in the future, our fears can be overcome.

Following is scary business. Why? Because the quest is not ours to lead. We are not in full control. We have limited influence and knowledge, which makes things very uncomfortable for us. But, if we have a leader who is sure, a leader that we love, and a healthy understanding of who we are, we can face our doubts, overcome our shaking knees, and plunge into the dark right behind our leader.

On a spiritual level, I believe God created us to be with him and he invites us all to follow him on a great quest to tell everyone, everywhere, about his wondrous love. Jesus said, Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be (John 12:26, New International Version). But what will motivate us to serve and follow him? Fear is a certainty. Evil abounds and actively opposes God's righteousness.

I would propose that our power to follow God flows from the same things we see in the Grey Company that followed Aragorn: we can endure our fears because God is resolute; our love for him compels us to follow; and we know who we are!

Listen to these words that God spoke to Joshua, the successor of Moses who would lead the ancient Israelites into the Promised Land: 

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. 

- Joshua 1:6-9, NIV

God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. He tells him exactly what he will accomplish. He gives him precise instructions on what to fill his mind with and how to act. He commands him to be strong-willed by saying not to turn from the law of Moses to the right or the left and by not letting it depart from his mouth. Finally, he tells him not to be terrified or discouraged. Why? Because God would be with him wherever he went. Jesus' words centuries later would be an echo of this, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20, NIV).

Not everyone could have had the power to follow Aragorn. Tolkien tells us, But when the dawn came, cold and pale, Aragorn rose at once, and he led the Company forth upon the journey of greatest haste and weariness that any among them had known, save he alone, and only his will held them to go on. No other mortal Men could have endured it, none but the Dúnedain of the North, and with them Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas of the Elves.

"Only his will held them to go on." It will ultimately be only those who recognize and submit to the will of God and his leadership that will follow him to the end. Love for God and self-awareness are key powers to begin the quest of following him; but when the darkness and gloom settle in, and the demons of the unseen realms manifest themselves, wreaking their destruction, the only power we have to endure is the unquestionable truth that God is with us and in him we place our hope and trust.

Today, will you accept the presence, leadership and authority of Christ in your life? Will you love him and commit yourself to serving by his side? And will you let him reveal to you who you really are?

I will end by leaving you a verse of Scripture the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus while he was imprisoned for spreading the message of Christ.

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

The original Greek word for workmanship is poiema from which the English word poem is derived. If translated literally, it means "work of art." Think about that. We are God's work of art - his greatest poetry! 

Even so, that marvelous truth may not be enough to keep us following. Our power to follow God will be found in submitting ourselves to his strength of will and doing the good works he has prepared in advance for us to do.