As we walked along the beach this morning a young family was putting the finishing touches on an elaborate sand castle compound with a moat. However, the tide was coming in and although when they started a couple of hours before, the location of their creation seemed safe enough, the incoming tide was on its way. Before long their entire work would be washed away.
I pondered as I continued on my way about the transitory nature of so much that we do with our lives. We build edifices, both literal and figurative, that will be washed away by time and tides, again both literal and figurative.
We are instructed, both by Scripture and by the presence of God's Spirit in our lives, to build with God's indestructible love on the foundation of God's love and sacrifice for us. Those castles will stand the test of tides and storms and time.
There was a dead fish on the beach and I stopped to watch a seagull having a feast. The gull would eat a few bites, then lift its head and squawk, loudly! I don't speak seagull, so I don't know if the gull was calling to its friends to come and share the meal or warning others away from its find. A sanderling approached and the two ate from opposite sides. But when another gull flew in, the first gull cawed, raucously, and the second gull skittered away, so perhaps the first gull didn't want to share.
Regardless of the gull's intention, I was reminded of how we tend to react to an unexpected blessing, an unsolicited gift, or even the greatest gift of all: God's grace to us. Do we call others to joyfully join in or do we hoard the gladness and bounty. Maybe we even are selective in choosing those with whom we are willing to share.
As believers we are instructed to love as we have been loved and to give with open hands and hearts. I may not speak seagull, but I can surely speak the love of God.
WAVES OF LOVE
Walking on the beach on Valentine's Day, I watched as wave after wave rolled in. The words to the old hymn, 'Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,' came to mind, especially the ones that say that God's love is 'Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. Rolling like a might ocean, in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of His love.'
The waves roll in; they just keep coming, as does God's love, through high tides and low tides, through storms and calm. That cold, windy February day, there was almost no one on the shore, so it was easy to think all of that beauty, that glorious time, that wonderful love, was meant just for me. But God's boundless love is not that way…it's for everyone. To shift the metaphor a bit, those waves roll in across treasures, such as the shark's teeth I enjoy collecting, but also across broken shells, stranded starfish, and pieces of sand dollars. Although those literal waves cannot heal or put back together the shards of beach litter, God's love can touch and heal.
As precious as that time on the beach was, as my heart sang out in praise, those waves of love need to lead me on in obedience to share God's love. And if I drink in all of the wonder of love without letting it motivate me to Christ-like service, I am sadly in need of the Holy Spirit's conviction and correction. The old hymn's words continue: 'Leading onward, leading upward,' not yet to the 'glorious rest' of the hymn, but to 'do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.' (Mic. 6:8)
When I have the opportunity to go to the beach, one of my favorite things to do is to meander along looking for shark's teeth—I will bend and stoop to pick them up or to see whether what I have spotted is really what I thought it was. Recently we returned from some time at the beach to find that a fierce thunderstorm had visited our home in our absence. As our home is surrounded by old oak trees, a storm of that sort always leaves lots of debris in the form of sticks, branches, and sometimes even limbs. Somehow the bending and stooping that is associated with picking up the limbs doesn't bring me the same pleasure that bending and stooping for shark's teeth does!
As I ponder on the difference in my attitude to the different activities, I am reminded of the difference my motivation in service to the Lord makes. If I give of my time or talents or resources because it is something I am required to do, rather than something I do out of love for my Lord, my service to God becomes as tedious as picking up yard debris and the joy of the Lord is not experienced in my service. When I pause to acknowledge the wonder of God's love for me, I am enabled to serve out of the wellspring of love that responds to God's amazing grace—what a difference!
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Col.3:17 (NIV)
"For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Mt. 6:14, [NIV])
As I sit on the terrace at the condo overlooking the ocean, I am often entertained by the various birds. I enjoy watching the gannets plunging for their dinners, the pelicans skimming along in a line just above the breaking waves, the cormorants and loons diving into the surf, the occasional eagle flying high above the others, and the graceful seagulls soaring in their pirouettes. Later, in a walk on the beach, I am struck by how pedestrian and ungainly the gulls are when they are on the ground. It is often hard to reconcile those ubiquitous peckers at the sand with the glorious soaring creatures in the air.
We often look at those in leadership positions with the same kind of wonder as we do the gulls: they seem to soar in the service of the Lord. But we are frequently disillusioned when we see them up close and are exposed to the flaws we see in them on a personal level. It helps to remember that God has always used less than perfect people: Abraham, the liar; David, the adulterer; Moses, the murderer; Paul, the persecutor of believers; Thomas, the doubter; and the list goes on and on to the present day. All of us, as servants of the Most High, but especially those in the public eye, should strive to practice what we preach. The other side of the coin is that we are all sinners, and we need to be careful about judging others for their faults and flaws, appreciating the good and forgiving that which detracts.
The young boy yelped with delight as he stooped down to pick up the large specimen of a shark's tooth that he had found—his very first. He brought it over to show off to a group of us who had gathered on the shore to compare our morning's finds. As we stood there talking, I spotted a couple more of the fossilized teeth and handed them to him to add to his collection. His pleasure shone in his eyes and his words as he tucked them safely away. At his mother's urging, they continued on down the beach. Later when I caught up to where they had left their belongings, I asked him how he had done. Disappointed, he said he hadn't found any more. I spotted another and handed it to him. His brother came up, showing interest as well, so I reached in my pocket and handed him one of mine. I don't think I have ever had a more successful day of hunting, and, interestingly enough, the more I gave away, the more I seemed to find.
Later, as I related the story to some of my family, we talked about how often my experience is true: when we give away, we seem to get more. It seems to be true of financial resources, time, and talent, but especially, I think, the love of God. The more of God's love we share, the more we seem to have. The more deeply we give of ourselves, in the name of that Love, the more we seem to be given. I remember hearing as I was growing up that it is impossible to out-give God. If my experience with shark's teeth is anything like it, it sure is fun to try.
"God loves it when the giver delights in giving." II Corinthians 9:7 (The Message)
Walking at the edge of the water just as the tide turned, I was charmed by the display of small pastel shells. As I stood and watched, the shimmering shells, propelled by the crabs or mussels inside, burrowed quickly down into the sand so that in just a few transitory seconds, their beauty had disappeared. It was as if they had never been there. At the edge of the immense ocean, their tiny, delicate color was visible only briefly—and at that moment, viewed only by my husband and me.
My thoughts turned to how ephemeral our lives are here on earth, especially in light of the vastness of eternity. As we scuttle through life, as we have an opportunity to momentarily glisten in the time we have been given, may others be touched, as I was by the shells that morning.
"May the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands." Psa. 90:17 (NIV)
Our oldest granddaughter, when she was three, was an indiscriminate shell collector. As she walked along the beach, every shell, no matter how broken, was special to her. She brought each one to show as if it were a marvelous treasure. Fortunately, she had yet to lose her sense of wonder at God's handiwork.
As I bent to acknowledge the beauty in the seashells that my granddaughter brought to me, I realized how much closer she is to God's way of appreciating beauty. Instead of seeing the brokenness in us, the Lord admires the texture that gives individuality to each of us. Instead of focusing on the ordinariness, God acknowledges the subtlety of delicate color that lends beauty to us. Where we might see a litter of nondescript shells, our Creator sees extraordinary diversity and potential. Lord, give us the eyes of a child— Your eyes.
"…Jesus called over a child, whom He stood in the middle of the room, and said, '…whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom.'" Matthew 18:3-4(TM)
A RAINBOW…JUST FOR ME
The beach was fairly crowded that day as I strolled along, and as I walked I noticed a lovely rainbow out over the ocean. As far as I could tell no one else was paying any attention to the arc of colors that reached to the horizon; it was as if that particular bow had been painted across the skies just for me. I would have been happy to share my private moment of worship at the glory, but everyone else was either too distant or too absorbed in conversation, so it seemed as if I enjoyed the spectacle alone. I expect there were others who stopped and saw the glory from their own vantage points as well.
The Lord reaches out to us every day with a prism of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. These marvelous gifts are available to all who turn with open hearts to receive them. Many of us are too caught up in our own concerns to notice the wonder of what God offers us, but when we do lift our eyes and acknowledge the loveliness of our Lord, it seems as if it is there just for each one of us. As the familiar verse says, "The Lord is MY shepherd…" (Psalm 23:1a [KJ ][caps mine])
"In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Rom. 8:37(KJ)
Walking along the beach I occasionally come across an area that is littered with pieces of broken shells, ground up by the sand and movement of the tides into indistinguishable bits of this and that. The colors are jumbled, the patterns are jagged and it becomes almost impossible to see the beauty that once marked each shell.
Looking at the beach litter reminds me of how so many people in our world are broken and battered by the tides and vicissitudes of pain, sorrow and difficulty. Instead of being able to see the wondrous beauty that God made a part of each life, we only see the flotsam and jetsam of wrecked dreams and hopeless despair.
Unlike beach litter, which cannot be restored, the lives of people can be. The love of God can reach out to us: broken lives can be mended, despair can be replaced with hope, joy can shine through even the deepest pain. Distress and difficulty will always be a part of life, but through the grace of God, they do not have to destroy us. Thanks be to God.
Buckets of Water
Our granddaughter was so busy! For at least forty-five minutes she had been fully and happily occupied with carrying bucketsful of water to the soft sand at the edge of the beach. She was enthralled as the waves came in and filled her bucket when she put it down in the ocean, and off she would go, squealing with delight to pour the water out on the sand. Then back she would come for more water.
It was completely appropriate for this precious little girl, at three years old, to be so merrily entertained by such trivial play. We, too, need times of relaxation and restoration, when we turn from the busy-ness and stress of our lives. How sad it would be, however, if all we ever did was to carry needless buckets of salty, sandy water that we then emptied fruitlessly in the sand.
A brief reading of the daily newspaper gives us a glimpse into a world full of sorrow, grief and pain. Though no one person can alleviate all of that suffering, if each of us would reach out in the name of our Lord, we could make a decided impact. Instead of just playing games in the sand, we can offer a cup of cool water—literally and figuratively—and honor our God.
Jesus said, "Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me." Matthew 25:45(TM)
Walking on the beach one day as the tide was coming in, I came to a spot littered with broken pieces of shells. The roar of the ocean was in my ears along with the calls of the seagulls, but, as I paused near the shells, an incoming wave lapped gently across them. And, very briefly, those shells made a chattering noise. It was almost as if they came to life briefly and filled the area with a gentle noise, barely audible.
How often, as we walk through the daily business of our lives, filled with the sounds of commerce, work, pleasure, even worship or service, do we miss hearing the small sounds? Perhaps it is the soft voice of a child trying to get our attention, the alienated murmurings of a teenager at risk, the muffled sobs of a grieving mourner, or the soft sigh of a lonely person. That easily ignored sound may be the nudging of the Holy Spirit calling us to ministry in a new and different way, or even in an old, old way from which we've strayed. The God of the roaring ocean, the chattering seashells and the hurting heart speaks to us in many ways. Our responsibility is to hear, then reach out to others in the name of our God.
"You've been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the Christians there, and you'll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion." I Timothy 4:6 ,7(TM) Picking up fossilized shark's teeth is one of my favorite things to do as I walk along the beach, but I stoop down just as often for something that looks like a shark's tooth. Those 'false teeth' are sometimes pieces of shells, sometimes pebbles, sometimes other beach debris. Often they're the right shape and the right color, but upon close examination, they're not the real article. It is easy to tell the difference if I look carefully, but even easier to be deceived from a distance. Because I have looked at many shark's teeth, I have learned to tell the difference.
As we walk along life's way, seeking to follow the Lord, there are many things that seem as if they are the Truth. They may look or sound right, but if we examine them carefully, we realize they are not. Much of what we read, see or hear about sounds good, or intrigues us, but as we stoop to look at them in the light of God's Word, or in view of what the Spirit has taught us, we are aware of discrepancies from the Truth. We need to pray that we will be given discernment as we search for the Lord's Truth.
"Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God's lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite." Hebrews 12:16(TM)
One of the things I enjoy while walking on the beach is looking for fossilized shark's teeth. They are difficult to distinguish from the pieces of broken shells, so I have to peer very carefully in order to spot them. Sometimes I am so caught up in searching for shark's teeth that I do not raise my head to appreciate the glorious beauty of the waves breaking and rolling into the shore, the shimmering of the sunlight on the water, or the gracefulness of the line of pelicans skimming along.
I think that sometimes in our Christian walk, we get so entangled in the minutiae of life that we lose sight of the broader vista. Although the small things in life are essential, we need to keep them in perspective. If we lose sight of the big picture, then the small tasks become mundane and burdensome. They begin to feel like chores instead of joys. Even though there are treasures buried in the small things of life and they certainly have their own beauty and wonder, we need to lift our heads up, at least occasionally, in order to know where we are going and to realize that the small concerns are not all that make up the loveliness and scope of God's work and world.
The view from the condo is wonderful - out across the dunes to the majestic ocean. I can sit in the easy chair with my feet on the ottoman and absorb that view for hours in air-conditioned or heated comfort. If it is pleasant out, I can do the same thing from the balcony. But as beautiful as that view is, as satisfying as the viewing is, unless I go down to the ocean, my experience of that awesome ocean is limited. Until I get the sand beneath my feet and feel the salty air, until I hear the roar of the waves and the call of the gulls, or, depending on the weather, until I actually get wet, I am a step removed from what being at the ocean is all about.
Many of us spend a large part of our Christian experience watching, as through a plate glass window. We see others walking the path of obedience, we listen to inspiring messages, we read about and pray for others who are serving the Lord, but we ourselves stay removed from the actual experience of following our Lord in pouring out our lives for Him. Leaving the air-conditioned or heated condo of our spiritual comfort zone may involve a cost, but the rewards of service and obedience are incomparable.
"No one who has sacrificed home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children—whatever—will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life!" Luke 18:22(TM)
INTO THE WIND
The wind was whipping the waves into a frenzied froth—it was a cold raw, January day, but it was my last day at the beach, and a walk along the beach beckoned me from the warmth of the condo. Armed with several layers of warm clothing, two hats and snug gloves, I ventured out with my face to the wind. If I walked with the wind at my back, the experience was bearable; unfortunately, doing that led to an even colder return. So I walked for a little while into the wind, then came back, much more quickly, with the wind behind me.
As we seek to follow along the path the Lord has laid out for us, it is tempting to look for the more pleasant direction, with the wind at our backs. If we want to make real progress, though, we will have to turn around, with our faces to the wind, and push ahead. There will certainly be times when we can walk along with the wind at our backs, but the easy way is not often the way of sacrifice, of dying to ourselves, of living the Christ-like servant life. Prudence and precipitation ended my foray on the beach that morning, but the exhilaration of walking against the wind lingered to remind me of God's way.
"I know that the Lord is great, ….He … brings out the wind from His storehouses." Psalm 135:5 ,6(NIV)
I walked along the beach looking, as I often do, for fossilized shark's teeth to pick up. Ahead of me, by ten or so feet, was someone else doing the same thing. She was obviously having a successful hunt, as she repeatedly stooped, then dropped her finds into the cup she was carrying. As I followed, almost in her footsteps, I was amazed at how many teeth I was finding where she had just looked. Then as I turned back and retraced my steps, I continued to find one shark's tooth after another—large ones, small ones, even some unusual ones.
As I meandered along, bending down now and then, I thought of how often we go back to the same scripture verses—and find new truths. We hear sermons drawn from the same text and learn anew how rich and multi-layered God's Word is. Just as my beach companion's eye and mine saw different shark's teeth, so two people look at a truth in the Bible and the Holy Spirit applies it in various ways to each one—or to the same person at different times. If we are seeking to learn from our Lord, we will be taught. If we wish to be more like the Savior, we will be shown how, even from ways we have already explored.
"Since before time began no one has ever imagined, no ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you Who works for those who wait for Him." Isaiah 64:4(TM)
PASSING ON THE BEACH
I passed you on the beach today. We smiled and nodded, too.
I do not know where you are from or what you like to do.
I do not know what words you use to thank the Lord above
For all the beauty that we saw, that filled our hearts with love.
I do not know what prompted you to walk alone today.
Did you seek some solitude to pray along the way?
Or has life left you all alone with broken heart so sore?
I wonder if our paths have crossed somewhere in life before
Or if we'll ever meet again in some more distant place
Where God might lead us both again and put us face to face.
I lifted up a prayer for you—and others that I passed--
That God might meet your deepest need; our Savior does, if asked,
And lift your heart up to the Lord to follow God's own path.
As surely as the tides come in to give the sand a bath,
So God's love reaches out to us; it comes in, wave on wave
And seeks to wash us clean of sin, our way to God to pave.
I passed you on the beach today—I do not know your name—
But God above Who loves me so—loves you just the same.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27(KJ)
There is a spot on the balcony of the beach condo that receives the morning sun and is protected from the wind, so that even on bitterly cold days, it is a lovely place to sit. I can sit there with a book and the wonderful ocean view and be perfectly content. Yet as the sun moves on in the sky, a shadow soon comes and the first intimation of a chill comes with it. Only as I sit in the full sun is the place of contentment 'perfect.'
So, too, in our Christian lives, comes the necessity of staying in the full light of the Son of God. In the Lord's presence there can be complete peace (regardless of the circumstances surrounding, whether it be literal or figurative cold, windy weather). But when the shadow of sin enters the picture, we need to move away from it until we enter again the warmth of the God's forgiveness and love.
"You're going to find that there will be times when people have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food - catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you - keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant." II Timothy 4:3 ,4(TM)
We love to watch the sanderlings as we walk along the shore. These sandpipers are fun to observe as they run up close to the surf and then scurry quickly out of the path of the breaking waves. When the number of birds is large, the group seems to move as one body—scampering this way and that.
Sometimes we who love the Lord appear as those sanderlings: flitting this way and that after the newest, most exciting 'thing' in the religious world. Sometimes it is a 'personality' that we hurry over to feast on, or perhaps a new theory on the end of the world catches our fascination. Maybe a recently published author or a charismatic speaker will 'tickle our fancy' and we flock to read or listen.
As the sanderlings are looking for food, so are we. But we need to be judicious in what we 'feed' on (based on the teachings of God's Word), and make sure that we are not just caught up in the latest fad.
SKIMMING THE WAVES
As I sit watching the waves break along the shore, a line of pelicans comes into view. Wings extended, they skim along the top of the waves, only inches above the crest. As the wave undulates, the pelicans somehow maintain a critical distance, just a fraction of an inch from catching a wing in the water and ending their incredibly graceful feat. It is almost as if someone has dared them to fly as close as possible to the water without going in.
Many of us seem to live our lives in a dare-devil skim just above the crest of the waves of temptation. We dabble just a little bit with this; we flirt just a little bit with that, and, every so often, unlike the pelicans who never lose their balance, our wing dips and we are caught in the froth of sin, deceit, adultery, lies, pride or selfishness. Paul admonished the Philippian Christians that… "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (4:8[NIV]) We would do well to follow his admonition and soar high in our pursuit of godliness instead of seeing how closely we can skim the waves without getting our wings wet.
STANDING IN THE SHALLOWS
I saw a fearless man, today,
Go swimming in the surf.
But I stayed safely ankle-deep
And watched and shook my head.
"Exhilarating!" was his cry
As he raced back for more.
"I think you're nuts!" is what I thought
As soft waves lapped my feet.
"Come," a seagull called to me
Flying quickly by.
But I liked where I lingered still—
Those waves might knock me flat.
The breaking waves kept rolling in
As my intrepid friend
Played fiercely in the deep,
And I began to think…
How often folks like us of faith
Stand safely in the wings
And watch as others go and tell
Or reach their hands to help
When our dear Lord, from heav'n above,
Who died and gave His all,
Now asks us to go to the depths
To serve and to obey,
To take a chance, to go in faith,
To risk a slip or fall,
But knowing, then, that we have gone
Beyond where we once were.
The safety of the shallows is
Just fine for when we start.
But our Lord calls for us to come;
God's faithfulness is sure.
If we risk all to meet the need,
The Spirit giving strength,
Then we will find we have obeyed.
And hear God's word, "Well done!"
THE OCEAN'S ROAR
"Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, 'the Lord reigns!' Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;" I Chronicles 16:31,32a(NIV)
Walking along the shore beside the breaking waves, I was conscious anew of the constant roar of the ocean. We had just arrived, so my ears were especially attuned to the sound. As days spent at the beach pass by, the noise becomes a part of the ambiance, scarcely noticeable at all unless a particular effort is made to listen.
Those of us who walk with the Lord often experience the same thing. When we first become aware of God's presence with us, we are thrilled and stirred. But as time goes by and we continue our spiritual walk, the Lord's presence becomes so much a part of our lives that we are often tempted to take it for granted unless we stop and take a moment to marvel at the wondrous nature of God. Just as the ocean's roar, when we stop and appreciate it, signifies the power and constant presence of that mighty body of water, so, too, do we need to pause and make sure we are listening to the voice of the Lord, being sensitive to the leadership we receive and obedient in responding to our Lord's commands.
WAVE ON WAVE
I sat and watched the waves that day; the tide marched slowly in.
The sand surrendered inch by inch as every seventh wave
Broke higher up along the shore t'ward the sandy dunes.
The seagulls stood like sentinels, and then they scuttled back
To safely watch anew. And as palmettos waved their fronds,
The sea oats bowed their heads in awe and nodded at the sight.
Sanderlings , in search of food, darted back and forth
To try and snatch a tasty bite before the waves came back,
But soon retreated from the crests advancing up the shore.
Then, as the hours ticked away, the tide began to shift.
The narrow beach much wider grew as if the sand had won.
The mighty ocean slid back down revealing swaths of beach.
And each wave's lesser reach, it seemed, was more of a retreat.
And yet I knew the time would come when things would change once more.
The tide would turn and waves again would claim the sandy beach.
Just so, the tide of God's great love keeps reaching out to us.
There is no force that can resist the movement of that love.
Sometimes, it seems, the other side has won. But our great God,
Who reigns on high, Who made the ocean wide, will, like the tide,
Come wave on wave. God's love for us is sure, profound. On it,
Our trust can safely rest, for now and all eternity.