Retouched

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

When i look in the mirror in our bathroom, unless i’m standing directly under the light, i see my hair as brown.

Now i know that it’s grey—i’ve seen pictures taken outdoors or onstage at Stonepoint with what feels like 10,000 watts shining directly down on my scalp, but in my mind, it doesn’t look all that differently than it did twenty years ago.mark

My perception is not really based in any sort of reality.

Now, before you chalk it up to ‘wishful thinking,’ i know other people do the same thing. When i take a picture of my wife, it can be really good…super flattering. She immediately sees everything wrong with it. A little smile line or tiny crow’s foot are neon signs on the Las Vegas Strip to her—literally the only thing she notices in something everyone else would consider a great photograph.

Some people do it with weight too, seeing themselves differently in the mirror, lighter or heavier than they really are. If we’re feeling bad about something in our lives, our view of ourselves can change with those moods. The flip side can occur when something positive happens. 

Our perceptions of ourselves are sometimes quite different than the way others see us.

Of course, nowadays we have the ability to use software, Adobe Photoshop and the like, to edit pictures to basically make things look however we want. We can take a photo of someone and smooth out wrinkles, touch up imperfections and generally airbrush the heck out of things until they look very little like what we started with. 

No one trusts magazine covers anymore because of this—we assume everything is altered. In fact it’s shocking when you see an advertisement or cover that’s noticeably not edited in some way.

Hollywood has done it for years. They rarely film ‘stories’ anymore without tricking them up with special effects and CGI—death defying stunts and things that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Superheroes are the thing and regular stories aren’t deemed good enough for an audience anymore. (Although at the time i’m writing this, I Can Only Imagine is the number one selling DVD in America. So just maybe the studios don’t have their finger on the pulse of the viewing public like they think they do.)

Anyway, all this retouching has left us not knowing what to believe.

But there’s actually a grain of eternal truth for us in all this. If you’re a believer in Christ, God sees your life as ‘retouched.’

If you’re like me, and you are…you’re a dirty, rotten sinner, who has nothing good about you. At my core, i’m selfish, conceited, prone to wander, and a whole list of other adjectives that describe my natural inclinations, despite my relationship with Jesus.

God knows us as we are, but when he looks at us, he sees us through the lens of what Jesus did on the cross. He sees us as redeemed. He no longer sees us as adversaries, He sees us as saints.

Saints. Repaired. Restored.

It’s as if Jesus’ death on the cross has ‘photoshopped’ our sins away, so when God looks at us now, all those imperfections are gone. But even better than just ‘cleaned up,’ He sees us as ‘new creations.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If we as believers, truly felt that way—if we embraced the idea in Ephesians 2:10 that we are all ‘God’s masterpieces, created to do good works in Him,’ how would that affect the way we live? How would it alter the way we deal with difficult people, those who God has not drawn to Himself, or maybe just not yet drawn to himself? People that God desperately wants in His Kingdom, but wants to use you and me to help get them there.

If God has retouched your life, he wants to use you to retouch someone else’s. That’s our true reality, and no matter how you see yourself in the mirror, and no matter what color you think your hair is, you can be a part of His redemptive work.

And you don’t even need to own a computer to do it. 

The Holy Spirit Heisman

Randal Brewer, Stonepoint Member

The title is a misnomer. We’re not giving away an MVP award for the most spirit-filled person. Not sure who the judges of that contest would be. The reference is not to an award, but to an action—the stiff-arm. D070315012.JPG

For the gridiron un-initiated, (if you pay no attention to things regarding the sport of American football) the Heisman Trophy (if you don’t know what that is, Google it) depicts a player in an elusive running motion, holding a football with one hand, and the other hand is thrust outward with the elbow locked. It is a technique called the stiff-arm. It is an effective way to ward off or push away would be tacklers, or opposing players that desire to stop the progress of the runner, and/or relieve him of possession of the ball. Correctly performed, the runner thrusts his hand into the chest of the would-be tackler, causing him to fail in his attempt to grab any part of the runner or his jersey, and eventually the tackler will lose his footing and fall away as the runner continues to proceed toward his goal.

The image of the Heisman Trophy has been appropriated in some circles to describe the act of giving someone or something the stiff-arm. Perhaps another word to use would be shunning. This shunning doesn’t have to be a physical act, nor does it have to be against a physical person, though it often is. For example, if a young man were to desire to dance with a girl at a social function or in a public setting, but she declined his invitation, it could be said that she, “gave him the Heisman.” (Perhaps if she was polite and had an excuse like she just had hip surgery it could be said she ‘stepped out of bounds,’ but let’s not confuse our metaphors.)  

Additionally, the Heisman could also represent an intellectual act. If an idea or thought is rejected, one could describe the dismissal as, “I’m giving that the Heisman.”

So now, we have arrived at our question. “Are you giving the Holy Spirit the Heisman”?

Christian conversation often finds itself circling another question: “Is that person really saved?” The question comes up because there are people who claim to be believers, or that regularly attend church, singing the songs and speaking the language, but in other settings sing completely different songs and speak a completely different language. I confess I do not know the answer for any other person. I know the apostle Paul said, “…for what I want to do I do not, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). 

Chapter 7 of Romans has a lot to say about sin and it would be better to read that for yourself than to continue reading this with the danger that I am misapplying a verse that wasn’t even the whole verse, however…I’ve been giving the Holy Spirit the Heisman. I believe a lot of others are guilty of the same. I have a ball in one arm, and I am carrying it – cradling it, protecting it, running as hard as I can, and I resist most, or many, or all attempts by the Holy Spirit to relieve me of my duty to keep it close.

We had a practice drill when I was playing football. Players lined up facing each other, about a yard apart, and a ball carrier would run through their gauntlet as they tried to get the ball away – to cause him to fumble. The ball was carried in one arm, close to the chest, one hand over the point of the ball, the arm clamped down hard. The ball is precious. Everybody wants the ball. You can only win if you have the ball. Don’t fumble the ball.

I feel like changing my metaphor in mid-run, or at halftime. I’m really juggling a lot of balls. They’re all important to me. They are puzzle pieces of the life I envision. They are puzzle pieces of a me I envision. My life. My work. My family. My fun. My personality—what I want to do and see and have. The Holy Spirit wants me to drop them, and I am holding Him at bay, protecting what is precious to me. You see, I’ve never really wanted to drop it, whatever it is. It’s me. I don’t want to see me die. I love me…except…the thing I hate I do. And this juggling…I’m worn out with juggling. 

I try and make an unspoken deal with God: You save me from eternal damnation, give me a hand around here in the meantime, and I will confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and I will help out around the church and give money, post spiritual memes, read the Bible and pray, and even do it consistently with conviction when I’m in a bind, only, don’t make me have to die!

The Holy Spirit. That is the thing isn’t it – that word Holy. Holiness…Be holy for I am holy…Holy! Holy! Holy! 

I’m not holy. I can’t hold onto and protect all that is precious to me and be holy, I can’t finish this puzzle of my life and die, I am…unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…I do not understand…what I hate I do…it is sin living in me…good itself does not dwell in me…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing…it is sin living in me…evil is right there with me…What a wretched man I am!

What are we trying to keep alive? How many verses can we quote about life and death? How many songs do we hum along to proclaiming a Holy God that has saved us from death, yet we keep resuscitating ourselves? We keep waking up on Monday morning and push the Holy Spirit toward the passenger seat of the car and engage our hearts and minds in the exact same things that have engaged us all along.

I don’t think I’m not saved, I just think I’m a coward, afraid to die. 

This process of sanctification is a slow tortuous death, a gauntlet I’m running through, and I’m afraid to let go of all that the wretched man has in store for me…down there…at the end. That would be admitting failure. That would be fumbling the ball away. Maybe I could just step out of bounds…or can I say yes to the dance? 

Honesty, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem that attractive in this light to the unspiritual person, and people are watching and my hip is a little sore…from all this running.

Routines 

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I am a creature of habit.

I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, a Seinfeldian mixture of three different types of cereal (ask me for the details—it’ll change your morning!) I even put the cereal layers in the bowl in the same order every time. 

check-boxes-largeOn the days i shave, i start in the exact same spot on my face, straight down from my left sideburn, and have ever since i started shaving. (I tried to start on the other side once, and it just felt weird.) When i find a pair of shoes i like, sometimes i order a second pair, to transition to when the originals wear out. (Manufacturers discontinue things or alter them from time to time, and, as you may have gathered, i hate change!)

I keep a detailed calendar on my computer, which syncs with my laptop, watch, and phone (thanks, Apple!) and the alerts simultaneously dinging all over the place tell me where i need to be and what i need to be doing, and i really do adhere to it pretty closely. Not like Groundhog Day close, but i do have certain things that i do on certain days of the week, enough that a Monday holiday throws things into a complete mess.

How about you? Are you a free spirit with your time or do you have a set clock that you run on?

What about Sundays? Have you become so routine in your spiritual journey that everything sometimes becomes ‘going through the motions,’ showing up at church most weeks because you feel like you’re supposed to, not out of any real need to connect with God or with your fellow believers?

I did that for years. I’d ‘faithfully’ show up on Sunday mornings, regardless of what my Saturday night looked like, thinking that God was somehow pleased because i made an appearance again that week, rarely paying heed to the fact that my heart was far from Him.

Truth is, my ‘offering’ was not acceptable to God.

Early in Genesis, we see the offerings laid before God by Cain and Abel: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

That sounds harsh, but Hebrews 11:4 explains that Abel brought his offering ‘by faith’ and Cain did not. Cain did not offer his sacrifice according to God’s instructions, so God rejected his sacrifice and worship, since it was not “by faith.”

Later in the Old Testament (Amos 5:21-24), God tells the people that their very acts of praising Him are unacceptable, because their hearts are not where they should be. 

“I hate, I despise your feasts,

   I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

    I will not look upon them.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Makes you think about checking your heart before walking in the doors on a Sunday morning, doesn’t it?

Some routines are good: you could have a Bible study that you do every morning at the same time, or set aside a few minutes every day for a ‘quiet time’ with the Lord. But far too often, our set times become simply checking off a box so we can tell the folks in our Journey Group that ‘yes we did a quiet time,’ and don’t really connect with God the way we should. We become content with the action and don’t find real contentment in spending time with our Creator.

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells us “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 

I like to picture the field as some place the guy walked through on a regular basis, maybe on his way to work. He trudges along through the same routine, day after day, and then finally stumbles upon a great treasure that has been there all along…he just never noticed it. So, finally realizing its value and importance, he sells all his possessions, so the field, and the great treasure will be his.

Now, i know the point of the parable is that there is infinite, unmeasurable value in the Kingdom of God. It’s something we should totally sell out for, and be willing to give our lives for it. 

But what if the story can be stretched a little to also be used to paint a picture of us, diligently, obediently, but Pharisaically attending church? There we are, week after week, without really noticing the value of it for years, until one day, hopefully, we see it for the great treasure it is.

Look—as believers, our eyes have been opened to the greatest ‘capital T’ Truth there is in this world, and most of the time we behave like being a Christ-follower is just part of normal, everyday life. It’s so easy for us, here in America, to ‘walk through the field,’ as i did in my twenties, and not let the fact that there is great treasure right in front of us change the way we live, the way we deal with the world, except maybe when a crisis happens. 

So, again, how about you? Are you plodding along in your routine or on a search mission for something God has for you? Do you see the treasure we’ve been given and want to share it with others? Have you opened your eyes to the prize that is set before us, and see this time on earth for what it is—mere moments in the timeline of eternity? Are you just checking things off your list or are you living out the Gospel as Christ has called us to do?

There’s really nothing wrong with having routines…just don’t put your time with God in the same category as breakfast and shaving.

You Don’t Complete Me…And I Shouldn’t Expect You To

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I don’t like Tom Cruise.

There—i said it

Between his Scientology, the indelible image of that time he was jumping up and down like a lunatic on Oprah’s couch, and the weird ‘center tooth’ that once you see, you can never unsee—there are a myriad of things about him that bother me.

I can’t stand the Mission: Impossible movies, where he will fight a whole team of bad guys who eventually throw him out of a helicopter that’s somehow flying upside down. He’ll manage to fall through the whirring blades unscathed, plummet toward certain death, then suddenly catch with one finger on the face of a cliff, ending up with only a scratch on his arm and cut on his forehead. He then crawls dramatically to the top of the mountain, and upon reaching the summit, discovers a jetpack that his IMF team has planted there, anticipating the whole chain of events. He immediately straps it on and shoots off into the air to chase down the bad guys, who will all ultimately peel their faces off to reveal that they’re actually other people who were on his team at the beginning of the movie. (I don’t think that’s an actual scene, but it’s probably on the storyboard for the next sequel.) Jerry_Maguire_movie_poster

Anyway, back in the day, he played the title character in a movie called Jerry Maguire. Jerry is a middling agent for a high powered sports agency, who gets fired and still ends up representing Cuba Gooding Jr., a Cole Beasley sized #1 wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. They yell at each other a lot, and jackhammer the phrase “show me the money” into our collective skull until Jerry finally secures Cuba a big contract that will set him up for life, unless he starts buying Lamborghinis, cocaine and mansions, in which case he’ll be broke in three years. 

Along the way Tom breaks up with Kelly Preston and falls in love with Renee Zellweger, who is the mother of the funky looking little kid from Stuart Little. They eventually break up, and everything is falling apart until forlorn Tom shows back up, wanting to reconcile. “You…(dramatic pause while he sets his jaw, presses center tooth down on his tongue, trying to get tears to form in his sullen eyes)…complete me,” he emotes, the music swells and women all over America get real tears in their eyes, while husbands are rolling theirs.

It made a lot of money, and somehow got nominated for Best Picture, in what must’ve been a down year. If it were made today, it would be on the Hallmark Channel, where it’s always Christmas, and feature those same former child stars that are in every single one of those Hallmark movies. And don’t get me started on the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr. somehow won the best supporting actor Oscar that year over Edward Norton in Primal Fear. (Insert eye roll emoji.)

Anyway, as you can tell, the movie, and particularly that phrase bugs me. Mainly ‘cause i don’t like things that aren’t true.

Look, i adore my wife—she is a wonderful, God-fearing, hard working, beautiful woman and i can’t imagine my life without her. I look back at the sometimes painful decisions that i believe God led both of us to make before we met, and i know He alone orchestrated some pretty crazy circumstances to put us together.

But she doesn’t ‘complete me’ and i don’t certainly don’t ‘complete her.’

Complement each other? Yes. (No…not like telling her that her hair looks nice. Although i do tell her that sometimes.) Our strengths balance the other’s weaknesses and vice-versa. She does a lot of things around the house, and enjoys taking care of our property and i…go to work and…play the guitar. (Maybe i should do the other kind of complement a lot more often.)

It’s not some stupid movie’s fault, but i think a lot of the time people go into relationships with that mindset—if i find the right person, my life is gonna be whole…that this guy/girl is the missing piece to my 1000 piece puzzle and everything will be great once i find him or her.

It doesn’t work that way. If you’re looking for another person to fix your mess, and make everything rosy, you’re going to be perpetually disappointed. There’s not a human being alive that can be the knight in shining armor, or the 24/7 beauty queen that our minds say is out there waiting for us. That’s too much pressure, and relationships crumble every day under the weight of unmet expectations because of it.

As believers, we need to find our identity in Christ and Christ alone. God tells us that we are His children, and that it is in Him we find our security, that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

That says nothing about finding a soulmate, or putting some of your trust in another person to make you be the man or woman God created you to be. 

Jesus completes me. I shouldn’t expect you to. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says this “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)

Single ladies, single guys…don’t miss this. You’re always going to be disappointed if you put your faith in another person to be your story arc. Life is far too complicated, and we all carry too much sin and baggage into relationships to be ‘enough’ for someone else. Christ alone is enough, and once you put your faith in him, your life’s journey should be about him and his will for your life.

He will put other people in your path to spur you on toward love and good deeds, but you can’t make them the focal point, or try to find your true happiness in the creation, instead of the creator and expect it to be something that lasts.

Those of us in relationships should always try to do the best we can, but we should also know we’re going to fall short.

And continually point each other to the one who won’t.

Washes Whiter Than

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

A few months ago, the wife and i were at one of those little shops where people sell things that you don’t really need, but buy anyway. She liked the way this big bar of soap smelled and thought it would be good to use in our shower, so she bought one.dove

Now, we’re Dove people. “Dove is ¼ cleansing cream and will never dry your skin the way soap does,” the old commercial promised, and we believe it. My knuckles don’t dry out as badly in the wintertime when i use Dove. I know it’s ‘girl soap’ and being a guy, i should be taking layers of skin off every morning with Lava or at least using Irish Spring or something, but i don’t care. I like it.

We buy the stuff by the pallet at Sam’s, since my wife has this weird, Howard Hughes-like obsession with new bars of soap. When one is like halfway gone, she deems it ‘thin enough to see through’ and opens up another, leaving me to finish up the old one over the coming weeks. So at any given time, there is one big bar and two or three partial ones in our shower, since i refuse to do that thing my parents used to do where they’d graft the old sliver of Ivory on the the nice new bar like that little guy that was that was growing out of the other dude’s stomach, leading the resistance in Total Recall. That’s just nasty.

My frustration with the shower soap is a subject for another blog post. Or another trip through re:gen.

Anyway—she tried out the big new bar from the little shop one night and didn’t like it. Like i said, we’re Dove people, and she knew this going in. It sat in the shower, unused for a couple of days, since everyone had developed the same opinion of it. But instead of throwing the thing away and saying ‘golly—i wasted a a little money,’ she went out and bought a little blue dish that matches the paint on the wall, and decided we’d all use the big bar that nobody likes by the bathroom sink instead. (No vote. It’s a dictatorship.)

Now, we have a long established pattern there, too. One of those pump dispensers from either Bed, Bath and Beyond or Bath and Body Works (i can’t tell the difference, and never know which one we’re in) has been by our sink for years. It’s nice, foamy hand soap—stuff that she spent an hour selecting in whichever one of those stores we were in at the Outlet Mall, where they make you think you’re getting a good deal, but probably just paying regular price.

You know the drill. The wife goes in, and smells 40,000 different varieties of soap and lotion, while the husband stands around, holding bags from the 5 other stores she’s bought spatulas and bras in, and his bag of $14 blue jeans from the clearance section of the Levis store, desperately wishing the bath and lotion place had one of those nice leather chairs like Dillard’s or Nordstrom. And a TV.

Occasionally she’ll ask my opinion, whether i like the Cucumber Vanilla Spice or the Chocolate Frosting Cinnamon Kumquat better and have me smell a little dab from the sample pump on her hand, but other than that, and whipping out the debit card, i’m utterly useless in that place.

Well, that little pump that we all like has disappeared into the recesses of the bathroom cabinets where the kids and i can’t find it, and been replaced by the soap dish that everybody hates, and the pump only makes a reappearance when company comes over.

Now, here’s the real problem—the big bar of soap everyone hates, but has to use, never gets any smaller. 

We are a family of obsessive hand washers, beaten down over the years by my wife’s germophobia, but somehow this thing, like the widow’s oil in the Bible, never gets used up. And believe me, i’ve tried. I stood there dumping water into the little blue tray one night, hoping to melt it and i swear the next day it was bigger. Out of spite!

She says she knows the bar soap is a virtual petri dish of germs, compared to the pump, but still can’t bring herself to throw it away, an act that would cause her children (and husband) to rise up and call her blessed.

I’m sorry to rant like this, but i do finally have a point. I think.

Our current message series has touched on the subject of things that don’t need to be in your life, but have entrenched themselves in there anyway.

What’s your bar of soap? Your secret shame that won’t leave?

You know—that thing you’d like to get rid of, but can’t seem to make go away. The habit, or hangup you wish wasn’t there, but never gets completely used up; the thoughts that your mind likes to go back to when you’re bored or lonely. The things you can’t melt away and just seem to get bigger when you try.

We’ve all got ‘em. Like the bar of soap we’re ashamed of, and hide when someone else is around, but as soon as they’re gone, it’s back out, visible to no-one else. Maybe it’s substances. Perhaps it’s worrying about what people think of you. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and it keeps you from finishing blog posts for months, obsessing over commas. It may be food, it may be alcohol or tobacco. Everybody’s got something.

The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 7:15-20 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

The late, great Christian songwriter Keith Green paraphrased Romans 7 this way: “The very things i hate, i end up doing. The things i wanna do, i just don’t do.”

Dear reader, if Paul, who saw, and was temporarily blinded by the risen Christ, and called to preach His truth to the Gentiles, can admit this sort of thing, and go so far as to write it down for people to still read 2,000 years later, why are we hiding our junk? Why can’t we, like Adam and Eve, admit that we’re naked and ashamed, and need help from our heavenly Father, who loves us and will clothe us, eventually in righteousness itself.

On Sunday, Brandon mentioned our need for authentic community—a place where confession takes place regularly, and accountability is the norm. If you’re in a Journey Group, take time this week to split up into guys and girls, and talk about these things, pray for one another, and follow up during the week.

If you’re not in a Journey Group, e-mail us at groups@stonepointchurch.com and we will let you know when our next GroupLink is scheduled. GroupLink is where we put people and groups together. It’s great to have a group of people that you can do life with, and you’ll soon wonder why you tried to live without it.

Stonepoint also offers re:generation, a twelve step, Bible-based discipleship ministry for people with sin issues that they are struggling with, which, if we’re honest, is everyone. Re:gen can help you deal with your hurts, your shame, the things you obsess over—whatever it is that is hurting your relationship with God or with other people.

Re:gen is not easy. It forces you to take a long, hard look at yourself, and the steps you’ve made along the way that formed you into the person you are, and openly share those things with a group of people that will become your friends. Parts of that are really difficult, but worth it in the long run. In the end, it’s not about receiving a coin, it’s about restoring and deepening a relationship with Jesus, and making that relationship the top priority in our lives. One step at a time.

The blood of Jesus washes whiter than any bar of soap you can buy, and it’s the only thing that can make us truly clean.

Oceans (Not the Song)

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I love the ocean.

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Photo–Angelia Johnston

My parents weren’t the traveling sort, so i never actually went to a beach until i was 19 when our church singles group took a bus to South Padre. It took us forever to get there, but i thought it was awesome. I was hooked. 

I love the sounds—waves crashing, seagulls squawking overhead—the whole experience is just really my ‘happy place.’ So why do i live in landlocked East Texas, you ask? You got me…i guess the opportunity to do more than visit the seaside never presented itself to us.

Angie and i used to take the kids to the beach every summer, at least to Galveston for a quick trip (even with the kitsch, seaweed & tar washed up on the shore, i still kinda dig it), but if i could work my vacation right, Mustang Island or South Padre. 

But it’s been a while since we went as a family. When the four of us flew to Phoenix on a whim three years ago, we ended up renting a car and driving as far west as we could, stuck our toes in the icy Pacific, then started heading back this direction. Angie and i went on a cruise last January, and would like to do another one if we can get dates to line up with our checking account. There’s a bunch of ocean out there, and i have only seen a tiny fraction of it.

God shows us a lot of things with the ocean—it’s the source of some of our favorite foods; mankind long ago learned to utilize it in transportation, and has laughingly tried to conquer it. But it shows us a lot more than that, in a way. There are depths that we have only recently been able to explore, the darkest recesses of inner earth where sunlight doesn’t come close to penetrating. Creatures that live their entire lives in that darkness that only a fraction of us will only ever see outside of photographs or documentaries.

That kind of depth frightens me. I’m not a good swimmer, and am not really comfortable being in deep water at all. I call it ‘a healthy fear of drowning.’ So i can’t imagine those explorers who ride in contraptions that far down below the surface, dependent on so much gadgetry—pumps, wenches and motors to tether them to life here above the water. And i love gadgetry—my smartwatch just told me my heart rate increased ‘cause i got nervous thinking about being underwater like that.

So i guess i really don’t love the ocean. I love the shore.

But here’s the deal, God doesn’t call us to lead safe lives, walking on the beach picking up sand dollars and shells. He calls us out of our comfort zones—into the waves, into the deep where we can’t see the shoreline or touch the bottom. He wants us to be in places where we are totally reliant on Him.

In Matthew 14, the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, focusing instead on the waves and begins to sink.

Begins to sink…

I don’t know about you, but when i step off the edge of a swimming pool, i don’t ‘begin’ to do anything—it’s an immediate and sudden drop to the concrete below the water. The implication here is that Peter’s faith eroded slowly…he didn’t drop in the ocean like a rock, but that it took a bit of time. As he started sinking, fear probably set in, eroding his confidence more and things just went downhill (literally) from there until he cried out for the Lord to save him.

You’ve heard the story countless times, if you’ve been in church at all and ‘don’t take your eyes off Jesus’ is a great message.

But not the only one.

Did you ever think about Peter being the only disciple that was willing to get out of the boat?

The rest of them were in the boat, safe from the elements, protected, a group of friends surrounding them. It’s a fairly comfortable place to be. Kinda like it is on shore.

Is that you? Is God calling you out of your comfort zone to walk in the storm?

Lisa Singh puts it this way, “If we are not venturing out into the deep, it means we are in the shallow, and there is not much to explore in the shallow. There is no depth, and our view of life becomes superficial when we remain where we are in control. Nothing of significance can grow, survive, or be sustained in the shallow because the waves of life will always wash away and diminish that which had no roots.”

My title said it wasn’t about the song, but as i wrap up, maybe it is…i leave you with this.

You call me out upon the waters

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Photo–Shelby Caldwell

The great unknown where feet may fail

And there I find You in the mystery

In oceans deep, my faith will stand

 

And I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand will be my guide

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me

You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

 

So I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

 

I will call upon Your name

Keep my eyes above the waves

My soul will rest in Your embrace

I am Yours and You are mine

 

Songwriters: Joel Houston / Matt Crocker / Salomon Lighthelm

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) © 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com. CCLI License # 11051243

Reconcilable Differences

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Photo by Jasmine Wallace Carter on Pexels.com

My wife and i are really different from each other.

I mean, we both have brown eyes, and my hair used to be brown like hers, but outside of some things like that, and the obvious male/female distinctions, (yes, despite what some might say, they do still exist) we are vastly different. She likes some of the same music i do, but on road trips, we usually keep the iPhones unplugged from the sound system in our car, or on the rare occasion we listen to music, regardless of whose playlist is on, we toss the other an occasional bone, but end up hitting the ‘next’ button…a lot.

She loves word games, Words with Friends and Scrabble on her phone. I, on the other hand, am so bad at those things, and so disinterested that the one time she and i played each other, she ended up using the app on both phones and basically played against herself just so the game would be sightly interesting. (Me: ‘CAT for four points…good enough!’ Her: ‘If only there were two Qs i could play QUINQUEVALENT here for 600!’)

She admits to being a risk-taker, and i like to keep both feet on the ground. I’m chipper in the mornings and she’s whatever the extreme opposite of chipper is. (Google some and insert one here if you like. I’m not gonna choose one, and put it in print because of this next difference.) 

She’s confrontational and i am decidedly not. 

Her ideal Saturday is to be outside working and mine is to be outside, laying on my back in a swimming pool, which we no longer have. I sing and she claims to have gotten ‘kicked out of Glee Club’ in 9th grade, scarring her for life. She is a great dancer and i can make people who claim to have two left feet look like Bruno Mars. We both love good coffee, but i take mine black and she drinks hers ‘light tan.’

In spite of all these differences, and there are dozens more i won’t bore you with, we get along. 

It’s not that we’ve stumbled on some magic formula, or read enough marriage books or attended seminars…although those things are great and i encourage you to take advantage of them. But for us, most of the time, it’s because we choose to get along. I love her and accept her for who she is, and she loves me. We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies because we know that in the long run, those little things don’t really matter.

It hasn’t always been this way, and it has really taken time, prayer and realizing what God wants us to model for our children, and the outside world, in our marriage, to try to do these things. 

In scripture, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage should work in Ephesians 5:22-28. 

I love the way The Message puts it in modern terms: Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.”

We were out at dinner one night, years ago (this predated Angie learning how to cook, you can read the story of that HERE) and saw an older couple sitting silently at their table, not speaking a word to each other while they waited on the meal to arrive. (This was before restaurants had TVs plastered on the walls or anyone had cellphones and the distractions they provide.) It was heartbreaking to see them, maybe married for many years, probably empty nesters who felt like they had absolutely nothing to say to each other. 

We made a promise to each other, right then and there that we would not end up that way. Over the years, we’ve known many married couples who lived under the same roof, went to dinner occasionally, didn’t really fight, but weren’t really ‘married’ in the real sense of the word—they just sort of co-existed. 

There’s a huge difference in ‘married’ and simply ‘not divorced.’

It hasn’t been easy. Both of us, over the years, have dug extreme potholes in our marriage. (Not the little annoying kind, either. I’m guilty of some major, Van Zandt County ‘break an axel’ ones.) 

About a year in, she had some major abandonment issues from her past (her dad, her first husband) that she’d never really dealt with in a healthy way. Her reaction was to push me, as her husband, to see if i was going to leave, too. 

After a while, in my own immaturity, my answer was ‘sure—if things stay like this, i will.’ 

Things really didn’t get a whole lot better until she did a book study at our old church called Experiencing God by a man named Henry Blackaby. It wasn’t marriage-specific, but about what Christian faith is supposed to look like in our lives. It completely changed her perspective on who God was and how, as a believer, she was supposed to live it out. Her angry reactions began to be replaced by kindness. 

She began to realize that i, as a human, was going to fail her…repeatedly. I was supposed to represent Jesus to her, as my bride, and love her the way He loves the church, but if her faith was put in me to do that, she was going to lead a life of constant disappointment.

She started to see Christ as her true, unfailing husband, one who would never leave or forsake her (Deuteronomy 31:6) and me, not as some knight in shining armor that rescued her from the life she’d been living before we met, but as a flawed, fallible man that she was supposed to model the Church to, in our marriage. She began to serve me, not out of obligation or as something that builds up resentment, but as an outpouring of her love for God.

When i saw her starting to change, it made me want to do the same.

At some point, we have to understand that our marriage vows aren’t written in chalk, but are more like tattoos. It may fade a little, but it’s never completely going away. At times you may regret the fact that it’s there and think it’s a mistake, but you deal with it, embrace it and come to see it as a part of who you are.

Choose to love. Make the daily choice to put God first, your spouse second, and other things (kids, job, etc.) in their proper places. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure. Learn how to resolve conflict in a Biblical way. Fight with each other against the outside forces that want to destroy your marriage instead of against each other. Engage that little ‘mouth filter’ we all have, but sometimes decline to use, when the temptation to be critical comes rising to the surface.

CS Lewis said it this way, “feelings come and go…but, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.” 

Make a vow to your significant other to not end up like that couple in the restaurant, or if you see your marriage headed that way, stop and be a servant to your spouse, as Jesus would do. Define your marriage by the things you have in common, instead of your differences. Pray with one another. Fight for your marriage. 

Ephesians 5 says your marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church to the outside world. What kind of portrait are you painting?