Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds. When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway.

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon – Video Version.

Giving Thanks When We Are Broken

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was grateful. Even when I turned around to see our eldest son bailing out furiously, I was grateful. We had just launched our recently acquired sailboat and I was about to go sailing for the first time in over a decade. The launch went well enough with neither the van, nor the boat-trailer being lost at sea. But I didn’t expect to return from the parking lot to see my son sinking! Nevertheless, I was grateful. The problem turned out to be an open self-bailer, which evidently does not work while sitting at dock. But even if it had been a leak, I would still have been grateful.

I was grateful. Second sail, with the self-bailer closed, and this time with another son on board as crew. It was very gusty and my son was very gutsy to come along. The strongest gusts were such that with both of us “hiking out” to the windward side, the boat was sometimes heeled over with the opposite deck going for a swim. It was an exciting sail, especially so when a piece of the deck ripped apart from the force of the wind pulling on a stay, a wire that keeps the mast secured to the boat. We managed to get back to dock without the mast falling over or the deck ripping further. Despite the fail, I was grateful.

The boat first showed up on a lawn in Grafton with a For Sale sign. In my mind that was a For Sail sign and I just had to enquire. “I think my husband wants $150”. That couldn’t be right, it seemed to be the complete package with boat, sails, rigging, and trailer all there and almost ready to sail. So I called the husband when I got home. “$100 or a case of beer.” Not knowing the price of a case of beer I showed up the next day with $100. I was grateful to have the promise of sailing again at such a bargain. I would have taken the boat home that day but the trailer was missing some important parts. So we had to rent a trailer to get the trailer and boat home. With some new parts and some effort the trailer was roadworthy, and the boat seaworthy, again. I was grateful. Now that the boat is no longer seaworthy, I am still grateful.

“ . . . give thanks in all circumstances . . .” Even when you may seem to be sinking and falling apart. Though our boat needs repairs, gratitude is easy to come by, for it can be fixed and is still worth much more than what we have put into it. Gratitude is easy when we focus on the big picture.

As Christians, gratitude can still happen in the midst of brokenness when we focus on the big picture. We see God’s amazing grace, we see the free gift of eternal life; “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. We see the promise of what is yet to come; “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18.

“ . . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We might think this as a difficult command imposed on us, that we must muster up some gratitude even as we are sinking and falling apart. However, we can miss the fact that God’s will is to give us so much to be grateful for. Back to the big picture! There is nothing broken in our lives that cannot and will not be fixed. Though winter may be approaching and the boat may be broken, there is great sailing ahead.

Wishing you a Happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

A Rescue I Did Not Want

small__2741887628It was a rescue I did not want. As a young teenager I had been a sailor for a very short time, but long enough to develop a love, in fact passion, for sailing. And long enough to develop a disdain for the noise-and-water-polluting powerboats that I referred to as ‘stink-pots.’ But it was a rescue I needed. My Dad was with me for a wonderful blustery sail, but the wonderful part had turned to downright scary and we needed to get back. My boat seemed to have other plans and we started to struggle. We tried bringing down the sails and paddling. That got us nowhere. We tried throwing out the anchor. Being nothing more than a tin of beans with cement instead of beans, that did nothing. Though in sight of where we wanted to be, we just could not get back. But finally our problems were solved, by a water-and-noise-polluting stinkpot.

There is an offer of rescue through Jesus whose name means “God saves,” or “God rescues.” An angel tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NRSV). There are three things to note about this rescue:

People really do not want a rescue. They would rather be able to do it on their own. There is a bugging sense that sin is real and a real problem, but we will deal with that ourselves by living better, and by being more religious. The apostle Paul studies religion in Romans but concludes “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 NRSV). I did not want a rescue and would rather have sailed back or paddled back, but that wasn’t working. When I got over my pride and accepted the offer of rescue I got back. Many people try many things to deal with their sin. None of it will work, but we have a Rescuer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 NRSV).

People do not want a rescue if it is by Jesus. That would mean giving up preconceived ideas. It would mean a change of heart and a change in behaviour. People do not want Jesus touching their time, their money, their desires. People do not want a rescue if it has anything to do with Christianity. They will point to hypocrites, to wars, and to science. But none of all that disproves the Rescuer. If I was to be rescued, I would want a more experienced sailor to jump on board and help us sail back. But I did not get to choose the manner of rescue. And I did not refuse the rescue. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” (Revelation 3:20 KJV) Will you refuse the Rescuer?

People see no need for a rescue. To borrow a line from one of my favourite rock bands “I don’t need to be forgiven.” Why look for a solution where there is no problem? While we may feel that way today, there is the future to think about. The longer I was in trouble on the water, the more I realized I needed the rescue. The winds may be light right now, but the day will come when you will be overwhelmed with grief over your sin. “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.'” (Revelation 22:20a NRSV) Why not take the rescue and instead be overwhelmed with joy over the experience of God’s love, God’s rescue? “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b NRSV)

photo credit: Jeremy Brooks via photopin cc