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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sandcastles

“But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”
Matthew 7:26, 27 (Common English Bible)

     He is known as Mr. Sandman. Mark Mason traded his high-paying career in sales to make sandcastles. From every indication, he is doing very well with his new vocation. A recent issue of Islands magazine reports that companies like Disney and Coca-Cola hire Mark and his crew – Team Sandcastle – to build custom sand sculptures, some going for more than $100,000 a pop. Additionally, Mark’s team builds sculptures for major personal events like wedding proposals. People are surprised when they learn that “building sandcastles” is Mark’s profession. Mark understands. He told Sarah Sekula, writer for Islands magazine that he thinks the same thing. “It’s just crazy cool!”[i]

     Mark understands, of course, that everything he builds today has a very short life. Sandcastles crumble. High-tide, rain, wind and multiple other factors quickly and effectively removes all traces of Mark’s skillful creations. Regardless of the size of the sculpture or its complexity, each one is temporary. It is simply the nature of the building material of choice. Some sand has greater firmness than other sand. Mark’s preference is for the sand of the Bahamas with Grand Cayman a close second. But sand is sand. Eventually, it all washes away.

     Matthew asks that we consider carefully the material we select when we build our life. Specifically, Matthew asks that we look closely at our foundation of choice when we build. Sand is a poor choice. Rain will fall, floods will appear and the wind will blow and beat against our lives. These things are inevitable, says Matthew. So consider carefully how you will build. We may build a life every bit as spectacular as the sculptures of Mr. Sandman. But if they are built on a foundation of sand, that life is only temporary. Such a life cannot stand in the storms of life.

     There is a place for sandcastles. They are sometimes extraordinary and cause delight to beachgoers. But a sandy lot is no place to build a life. A life of greed is one built on a sandy lot. A life of immediate gratification and self-indulgence is one built on a sandy lot. A life of power and position or arrogance is a life built on a sandy lot. Rigid adherence to one political position without appreciating another viewpoint can be a sandy lot. Any of these may seem lovely for a moment. But torrential downpours will wipe it all away. The wise not only pays attention to God’s word. Each day they secure the foundation of their life by that word. And theirs will be a dwelling that even the greatest storms of life cannot shake.

Joy,





[i] Sarah Sekula, “Mr. Sandman: This is his livelihood.” Islands. May, 2015,  page 47.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Beachcombing

“I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8 (Common English Bible)

            Beachcombing has become one my favorite activities that I share with my wife. The treasure that is freely presented by the sea changes with every wave that washes ashore. Rare pieces of sea glass, interesting stones and shells and the occasional piece of driftwood provide a most fascinating diversion from the daily tasks and responsibilities that can consume any of us. Collecting unusual pieces and sharing what I have found with my wife helps me unwind and slip out of my day-to-day routine. Worries fade for both of us as we become caught-up in the fascination of discovery.

            There is also trash and dangerous sea life that washes ashore. Broken glass with sharp edges and jellyfish tend to present the greatest danger to bare feet on the beach. Most beaches provide a purple flag to alert those walking the edge of the surf to the presence of dangerous sea life. This is helpful, of course, but the eye must remain sharp to see other harmful items that wash ashore such as nails, needles and sharp pieces of metal. Placing the bare foot upon any of these changes one’s mood and diminishes an otherwise beautiful day. Worries that had faded are replaced with other worries.

            What is important is developing a sharp eye to discern between treasure and trash, what is a collectable and what is dangerous. Our spiritual lives require the same discernment. What we collect in life will either draw us closer to God or lead us away. Particularly in the midst of the craziness of life, busy schedules and the need to multitask we must exercise care to carry God with us. Otherwise we may discover one day that we have spent our life gathering those things that have little value. Worse, we may realize that we completely missed the true treasure – a life-filling relationship with Jesus.

            Paul doesn’t want us to miss the treasure. So he makes a sharp distinction between what he once considered valuable and now knowing Christ. By comparison to Christ Jesus everything else is little more than “sewer trash”. Perhaps this is hyperbole. Perhaps it isn’t. What is important is that as Paul walks the shores of life he now understands the difference between what has value and what doesn’t. And he urgently wants us to know the same.


Joy,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The One Who Draws Near


“…the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists…”
Hebrews 11:6 (Common English Bible)

     This seems quite simple. How can someone approach a God who has no real belief that God exists? Would anyone think of coming to God unless they first thought there was such a being? Why would Hebrews make such an obvious observation? Yet, even the most faithful among us confess to moments of uncertainty. Odd, isn’t it? There are moments in life when the existence of God seems highly unlikely. Yet, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty, there are people who pursue God.

     Henry Sloane Coffin offers help.[1] He suggests that we pay closer examination to precisely what claim Hebrews is making. The author of Hebrews does not say, “The one who draws near to God must ‘feel’ that he exists.” Each of us have those moments when we feel the presence of another in the room, even if the room is dark and the other person cannot be seen. But such feelings fluctuate and can be unreliable. They are not always accurate. Sometimes that feeling of the presence of another is only our imagination. Couldn’t the same be true for feeling the presence of God - our imagination?

     Nor does the author say, “The one who draws near to God must ‘understand’ what he is.” Few reach God with their minds. Any search for truth only results in the discovery of fragments of truth, often unrelated to one another. Any one of us may desire to explore the unknown with reasonable thought but often the result is that God becomes unreal to us. Let us not make the mistake of trying first to understand before we begin our exploration. As Coffin puts it so clearly, we must first touch the shore and land before we can explore the continent and chart out the mountains and rivers and plains.[2]

     What does the author say? He writes, “the one who draws near to God must ‘believe’ that he exists.” The question is one of belief. And this chapter begins with the author’s definition of belief; giving substance to that which is hoped for. Belief in God begins with “hope” that there is God and then continues by rearranging one’s whole life in a manner to live as if that hope is sure. This is what Hebrews means by ‘giving substance’ to our hopes. Whereas the reasonable person often begins with evidence first, followed by belief, Hebrews contends that living as if something is true - believing that God exists - produces the evidence. Living the promises of God before there is any proof that they can be trusted is what draws us near to God.

Joy,
________________________

[1] Henry Sloane Coffin, “Religious Prepossessions,” University Sermons. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914) 19-35.
[2] Coffin, pages 24, 25

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Full Development of Faith

“I want to do your will, my God.”
Psalm 40:8

     Spring training, 2015 will find Giancarlo Stanton suited-up as a Miami Marlin. Signed to a thirteen year, $325 million  dollar contract – more money than any other American athlete in a single contract – Stanton was not easily convinced that this was the right move in his career. The contract offered Stanton was unprecedented in both length and value. If money alone was the determining factor, it was a clear decision. It wasn’t. Ben Reiter writes in the current issue of Sport’s Illustrated that Stanton is “driven by something else: a desire to wring everything he could out of his gifted body. So he has pushed himself to become an all-around force.”Naturally, that personal drive could be pursued with any MLB franchise. Where Stanton played baseball would be driven by something higher than the pursuit of personal wealth.

     A life that reaches for something higher than personal gain is rare and spacious. Here, in this Psalm, the one who writes declares that they desire to do God’s will. This marks a mature stage in discipleship. Listen to many prayers today and what is heard is a plea that God honors the will of the individual. These are not the prayers of a life fully consecrated to God. To address God at all in prayer indicates the presence of a faith journey. But such a journey is not complete until there is absent any desire except God’s will.

     Prayers of those new to the faith naturally begin with requests for oneself. This is not altogether a bad thing. Prayer itself indicates the presence of trust in a God who is concerned and desires our good. Even the prayer taught us by our Lord - the Lord’s Prayer - includes a personal request, “Give us the bread we need for today.” (Matthew 6:11 Common English Bible) After faith begins to experience growth there is noticed some constraint and reluctance in making personal requests known to God. The growing faith becomes inclined to know God and God’s will.

     It is here, in this simple prayer of the Psalmist, “I want to do your will, my God,” that faith reaches full development. What at first was constrained has come at length to be natural. The heart is fixed on nothing less than pleasing God. The bent of life is God-ward where the best of everything abides. It is here that we become what we were created to be - more fully human and less self-centered. And the responsive service of our life to others is broadened.

     Joy,

______________________________
i Ben Reiter, “Miami Masterpiece.” Sports Illustrated. March 2, 2015, pages 46-53.