When the Shoreline Changes
So this past week our family enjoyed an amazing Myrtle Beach vacation as I am sure you can tell by my awesome tan. ☺ Go with me in your mind to Myrtle Beach for a minute. You know, you can learn a lot at the beach. You experience a lot at the beach. Being there and taking in the majesty of all God created and experiencing all I did just sitting there or while walking along the shores was a great experience with clarity. So much became clear on that sand.
The beach is truly a melting pot of cultures and activity. It is like combining an episode of “What Not to Wear” with “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and crossing those with the “ESPN X-Games” and “The Bachelor.” You see EVERYTHING at the beach, right? Sometimes a little visual oversharing, if you know what I mean. ☺ We live in a time of bold and unleashed individual expression.
I also experienced a myriad of wonderful things as people enjoyed the beach. Besides the obvious sounds of peace, the majesty of the waves, and glory of the breeze God provided I saw friendships on display. People built sandcastles and threw Frisbees. People walked along the beach talking and laughing together. It was so enjoyable to see families creating memories. People were just chill, you know? We live in a time when it seems it takes going away to be able to truly unwind.
I witnessed all ages of people, I heard many different languages, and I saw kids of all different races playing together. God surely had to be smiling about that. Unfortunately we still live in a time when people are more than divided over race. They are not only divided but hostility has escalated to a murderous pitch. Oh how my heart goes out to the victims’ families and the AME church in Charleston, SC.
In the wake of several shark attacks I saw some risk takers and many more who only waded in ankle deep. Perhaps those who were once willing to go out into the water up to their necks found themselves more cautious because of recent attacks. We live in a time when dangers at home and abroad, physical dangers as well as religious persecution seem to be causing Christians to play things a bit more safe.
I watched as treasure hunters strolled along the beach in search of the perfect shells. I wonder if they were collecting souvenirs, or raw materials for crafts, or perhaps they were looking for a way to make a living by selling their treasures. We do live in a time when people have lots of different reasons for why they do what they do.
I saw people parasailing, people flying advertisements over our heads and people enjoying helicopter rides. Though I was relatively in the same location as those in the air over the beach, I was aware that their perspective of the scene was distinctly different from mine as I stood on the sand. And I was reminded that we live in a time when even sincere Christians have different perspectives even on big issues.
Some people worked on the beach. Some read. Some exercised. Some slept. Some (me) snacked all day and lived with the false idea that calories didn’t count because after all they were sweating in the sun. Some tested the power of the sun and laid out without sunscreen, others wore hats and sat under umbrellas for protection. We are all so very different, aren’t we? I thought about how the America I grew up in seemed to be a place where people, especially Christian people generally agreed on a lot of stuff. Not so much anymore.
I also viewed places with smooth sand and places just a few feet away with rough sand reminding me that as we journey through life with our family and friends some people seem to have it a lot rougher than others. I guess I came away from the beach with the reminder that life isn’t fair.
And there lying on the sand were thousands upon thousands of broken shells. Only once in a while did I find one that seemed to be whole. The shells on the beach are a lot like our world today. We live in a time when is seems there are a lot of broken people (maybe most) living broken lives, so much so that we have to guard our words and actions or feel we do so that we don’t create another jagged edge. By broken people living broken lives I am not referring to what I think might be broken about them, but it’s just an observation that many aren’t truly happy and keep chasing relationships, experiences, and things that don’t fix their brokenness but add to it. I read about their unhappiness in the social media every day.
One of the cutest things I saw was a little girl who made a sand castle too close to the water. (SHOW PICTURE) As the tide came in and the waters inched near her, I saw her stretch out her little frame to try to protect what she had built. You know the shore line changes throughout the day. Many love notes in the sand get washed away as the shoreline changes. Many sand toys get swept into the water. Many perfect shells get washed back into the water as the shoreline gets erased. The beach reminded me the things of life are so fragile, because we do live in a culture where the shoreline is ever changing, it is becoming increasingly challenging to protect that which we have believed and built our lives upon. Like the little girl using her body to try to protect her sandcastle because of the changing shoreline, I have a sense that as Christians that lately we have gone into protection mode to hold onto what we believe.
I took a walk down the beach and got punked by the changing shore line. In the short time I was gone the waters had rushed in to redefine the shore’s border. On my return when I was trying to find where I had been sitting, I didn’t realize that due to the newly re-defined shoreline I was looking beyond and walking past where we had put our stuff. I had been basing my location on the shoreline, the changing shoreline and it caused me to go past where I should have been, past where I wanted to be. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I gauge my whereabouts by the dock that was fixed rather than something moveable like the shore?” Perhaps that’s why so many Christians no longer agree about the big stuff. Maybe we have gauged our ideas and convictions on the changing shoreline of the culture rather than the dock of the Word of God which is fixed.
As if the lessons at the beach weren’t enough, God spoke to me as I moved about the house where we stayed. We were blessed to be given the opportunity to use a home that members of this congregation, Jack and Diane Sharp, own. It was the “beachiest” house I have ever seen! I took some pictures so you could see what I mean.
It was decorated in all things beach. (SHOW PICS) There were turquoise vases with starfish and sea shells. The valances in the bedrooms had shells on them. Wall hangings tastefully shouted “Come to the beach.” Shells and starfish hung in the bathroom. The sheets on the bed had a beach design. The placemats on the kitchen table were beach themed. How cute is this light switch with a shell night light? I loved the chair with the palm branches on it. The oar over the TV reminded us we are all rowing through life. The clock sported beach treasures. Lighthouses graced the top of the kitchen cabinets. When I went to find a pot holder I pulled out the cutest fish potholders and I was like, “Nuh uh!” From lamps to decorative furniture, to key rings, decorative seat covers and pillows you felt like you were at the beach even though you were in the comfort of air conditioning and all the amenities of home!
And on the walls I noticed three wall hangings in particular with three expressions which were very strategic for my life this week; Very strategic for me as a pastor during these unsettling times. They simply said (SHOW PICS): Relax, Renew, and Take off Your Sandals.
I sure did a lot of that this past week. It’s tough to relax sometimes when you are in the throes of a busy schedule and the demands of “real life.” It is tough to relax when what you have believed about something like marriage all your life has now been altered in the mainstream by legal authorities. It is tough to relax when you see the shoreline changing and you feel an urgency to protect your sand castle. It is tough to relax when you are persecuted for having your beliefs about something no matter which side of the fence you are on. Protection mode can consume our emotions, our prayer life, our words, our actions and our time. God’s Word for us today is that we can relax.
“Pastor Melissa, this isn’t the time for Christians to relax. It isn’t the time for Christians to check out. It isn’t time for Christians to step out of the conversation. It isn’t time for Christians to retreat.” I agree. I’ll get to what I mean by “relax” in a minute. For now, please hear this: We need to stay in the conversation. We need to continue to teach and preach the truth of God’s Word. We need to continue to live counter-culture.
In fact, it is time to step up our game when it comes to living out our faith. Just my opinion, but I think hypocrisy in the church is partly to blame for the low moral standards the world now embraces. If Christians don’t live it why would we expect the world to? If we don’t do the Bible can we blame non-believers for not seeing the value in Word-driven principles? The truth is the church has been too relaxed when it comes to sharing the Gospel and too relaxed in the way faith is lived out. I say that because it can often be difficult to distinguish between Christians and the world. Just my opinion, but I think we have adopted a kind of “Chameleon Christianity.” Often when it suits Christians we stand up and stand out. When it comes with a price we often blend in and bow to the culture.
So, I’m not encouraging a relaxing of principles and convictions or an embracing of anything other than what God spells out in His Word. I’m just suggesting that we stand firm in God’s peace, that we don’t panic, that we don’t become argumentative or petty, and that we don’t try to shame people into our way of thinking. Outward conformity to Christian principles means nothing without a heart change anyway. When people’s lifestyles outwardly seemed generally similar, say in the 1950’s, there was likely a false sense of unity or sameness. Is our goal to help people connect with Christ so that they submit to His guidance for their lives or is it to make them live like we do so that it’s easier for us to live as Christians in the world? Just asking!
So many have abandoned the faith. Scripture said it would happen. Many have looked for ideologies and alternate theologies to justify and excuse a life apart from Biblical footings. Scripture said it would happen. Many have become argumentative, sarcastic, angry, and unapproachable, unwilling to entertain the possibility they may be way off track. Truth is no longer fixed for the masses. We live in a different America. This didn’t just happen a week ago Thursday with the latest Supreme Court ruling. It has been happening for some time, for several years and a couple of decades.
But God says this morning: “Relax, because I am in control.” Because of this truth I can breathe. I can face tomorrow. I can trust God to accomplish His will and His purposes which He often times does when things look like they can’t get any worse.
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. A change in a law, a shift in the culture, they don’t diminish God’s power, wisdom, or ability to impact our world. God isn’t going to say one day, “I resign. I’ve done being gone. I can’t continue to exert my will and power.” That’s not going to happen.
As I looked out at the vast ocean I realized that there was so much that I couldn’t see, so much that was a mystery. So much was swimming below the water in the depths of the ocean that I didn’t have a clue about. I needed to own that and respect it at the same time. Even as I flew over the water on one of those helicopter rides (20.00 for two minutes, but I digress) . . . During our six seconds over the ocean, I reminded myself I can truly only see the surface. It didn’t matter if I was on the shore or overhead, what I could see and know was limited, but God, who is SOVEREIGN, sees and knows all, all of the time! He is at work in the depths, under the surface, beyond the horizon, and just because we can’t see the plan unfolding, just because the darkness seems to be overtaking the light it doesn’t mean God has gone to sleep. God can never be limited, and what He can do and will do to accomplish His work in the world is beyond our comprehension.
So, yes stand up for truth. Live, to the best of your ability, what it means to be a Christ-follower, but do it with peace instead of panic. God will have the final say. In addition to defending the faith when needed, be sure to live offensively. That is, live a committed, Christian life without compromise. It is the best advertisement for the Gospel we can create.
The second wall hanging that caught my eye was the one that said, “RENEW.” The beach is a great place to renew your mind, your spirit, your energy. It’s a place to be stripped of confusion and drama and the opinion of popular culture and media spins. It’s a place to get quiet and go one-on-one with God.
What I felt the Spirit say to me in regards to this word, “renew” was that this is a time for Christians to renew their commitment to the most basic of Christian principles and practices and that is done as we renew our commitment to be people of the Word. Not the Word and pop culture. Not the Word and what is trending on Twitter. Not the Word and what the News Media polls show. Just get basic.
How about this verse from Hebrews 2:1? We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. Spot on, right? The shoreline of culture and faith is being re-defined. We must anchor ourselves to the Word of God. One of those redefinitions, as you are aware, is the definition of marriage. How the Church of God with headquarters in Anderson, IN (of which we are part) came to the conclusion that marriage is between one man and one woman is based solely on Scripture as all doctrines and definitions must be. As my husband said about a week ago, “Morality and Truth don’t have an expiration date.” What was true 2000 years ago is still true in terms of God’s Word and His expectations for the lives of Christian people.
As I listened to the ocean waves and felt the coarse sand between my toes, it was like God was drawing my attention to the basics. God created it all. God owns it all. God governs it all. God wants to be involved with it all. God wrote down everything we need to know in His Word and has given us the Holy Spirit to help us interpret how we live out what He wrote down.
If there is a clarion call, if there is an urgent challenge, if there is a passionate plea from the pulpit this morning it is to get your nose in THE BOOK. Read THE BOOK. Learn THE BOOK. Commit to THE BOOK. Live THE BOOK. It can be understood. It is relevant. It is practical. It does have power to shape us into people that can live victoriously and have wisdom to know how to speak into the troubling and confusing issues of our time. Young and old, we all could use more BOOK time!
A few of you have indicated you are ready to audit a college level class with me that is being offered by MACU this fall. In just a few weeks, I will contact you to help you get registered. It is a class on the Bible itself, and as much study as I have done already, I can’t wait to go deeper. You can still sign up on your blue card. The cost is $100.00. Won’t it be fun to tell people we went to college together? ☺
The depths of this Book are like the depths of the ocean floor. Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out.” Don’t look to the shoreline to define anything. What God is doing is deeper than the sands of culture that is so easily swept away into the tide or left to lie in ruins on the beach.
“She lived by THE BOOK.” I would love to have people be able to say that about me when I am gone. She did it by THE BOOK. When decisions were made, she made them by the book. When confrontation took place, she did it by the book. When people were disciple, they were discipled by the book. When she disagreed with people she did so because of what was in the book and not because of what was in her heart or head about how someone should live.
The last picture gave me great pause. (SHOW PICTURE) It said, “Take off your sandals.” Of course it referred to our sandy flip flops that should be removed in order to keep people from traipsing sand all over the house. But it reminded me of the request God made of Moses in Exodus 3:5 to take off his sandals because that burning bush experience was holy ground. God wanted to have a conversation with Moses, one of His people, but before they did, God asked Moses to acknowledge and respect God’s holiness. If Moses was going to be used of God to lead God’s people He had to understand who was in charge and what was expected.
That leads me to my final point for today. I know God is holy, and He calls His people to RESPECT His holiness.
Moses acknowledged God’s holiness. He led the people out of Egypt. Where did they go? They went to Mt. Sanai where God gave Moses the law written in stone. It was basically a request of the people of God who were becoming the nation of God to be holy and live in a holy relationship with Him through obedience to His laws. Listen, God isn’t unapproachable, but He is holy, and when we come to Him, we have to acknowledge and respect His holiness.
God is serious about holiness. He is serious about His people living in the light of His holiness, and walking in holiness. God freed His people from bondage in Egypt so they could live in a holy, devoted relationship with Him. He has freed us from sin for the same purpose. We are God’s chosen people, a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a people belonging to God. (I Peter 2:9) Are we taking God’s call to holiness seriously? Or are the Chosen of God walking around with mud on our faces and dirt on our hands?
It is easy to react impulsively and anxiously to all that is changing in the world, to be upset by it, and to start pointing fingers at other people, but what about us? Do our lives truly reflect the holiness of God? How much are we letting slide in our homes and hearts? How lax have we gotten about what we will accept into our lives? Are racism and other forms of hatred alive in the hearts of Christians? Is sexual sin being given a pass in some Christian lives just because it is heterosexual? One sin is not greater than another. Are we quick to judge others in order to take the spotlight off of ourselves?
There are a lot of things I am uncertain about, many mysteries that are just too deep for me to get to the bottom of, but there are some things I know for sure. I know you can let your anxious heart relax in the Sovereignty of God without relaxing your responsibility to speak God’s truth and demonstrate His holiness. God is working. He will provide what we need in these turbulent times. I know that the best way to not lose your footing amidst an ever-changing shoreline is to renew your understanding of and commitment to the Word of God. I also know God is serious about His holiness and holiness and hypocrisy aren’t compatible.
Yes, these are times to evaluate what is going on in our country where the shoreline seems to be changing, but perhaps more important it is time we intensely evaluate our own lives in the light of who God is and what He desires. For when the shoreline changes we must remain committed to the one, true God who NEVER changes.