Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
The longest anyone has ever gone without air is 22 minutes. The longest anyone has ever gone without food is 74 days. But when it comes to water, our bodies can only last so long without it. Water is one of the most essential parts of the human body. It makes up two- thirds of our bodies. The common answer for how long the average person can go without water is about 3 days, but it actually varies from person to person. In strenuous conditions you can lose up to 1.5 liters of sweat an hour, but in comfortable conditions an adult man can go a week or more without water.
Andreas Mihavecz, an 18-year-old Austrian man, may have survived the longest without drinking water: Police accidentally left him in a holding cell for 18 days in 1979. It’s a fuzzy record, though, since he allegedly licked condensation off the walls of the prison. The point is this, water is essential to physical life. What does scripture have to say about water? I’d like to notice two brief ways that water is used in scripture.
Water is mentioned as a way to salvation (John 3:5; Acts 2:38). John 3:5 says, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” What happens if we are not born of water and the Spirit? Eternal life will not become a reality. Water itself is not what saves, but the process of obeying the holy command of God. A very well known quote is this, “My faith is not in the water, but in the One that told me to get into the water.” Water is what gives us eternal life, but only through the act of baptism.
One of the cool attributes of water is that it has the ability to take on impurities, and it
can also release them when it evaporates and becomes purified. What happens at baptism? We are lowered into water and our spiritual impurities are taken away and we come up pure.
I stumbled across an article one time that said this, “Thirst Drives Sailors to Drink Sea Water.” It was July 30th, 1945 and the Battle Cruiser USS Indianapolis was returning home from a mission. On the way back it was struck by a Japanese torpedo. Sadly this ship didn’t make it home. In fact, in just 12 minutes 300 men died and 900 were in the water.
Those in the water went on to endure 4 days and 5 nights in the water. No food, no water and under the blazing sun of the pacific. Of the 900 that went into the water, only 316 survived the lack of water and the shark attacks. One of the survivors was the chief medical officer. He recorded his experiences and said this, “There was nothing I could do, nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead at sea, save the lifejackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the water. When the hot sun came out, and we were in this crystal clear ocean, we were so thirsty. You couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men they shouldn’t drink. The real young ones…you take away their hope, you take away their water and food, they would drink the salt water and they would go fast. I can remember striking the ones who were drinking the salt water to try to stop them. They would get dehydrated, then become maniacal. There were mass hallucinations. I was amazed how everyone would see the same thing. One man would see something, and then everyone else would see it. Even I fought the hallucinations off and on. Something always brought me back.”
A lot of times people think, “There is no way that this won’t save me.” How couldn’t I be saved if I’m sprinkled with water? Or if I say a prayer asking Jesus into my heart? Whatever it is, they look at salt water and think it will quench their thirst, that it will save them. But God has told us what to do, and it is up to us on whether we listen or not.
Water is also used as a metaphor describing a way to strengthen our resolve. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” Water here is used as an example of trials and hard times. These waters help us to lean on Christ. We can have comfort in Him. But what is the point of these trials? God can’t use us if we are filled with sin and imperfections. Through these trials and hard times we are purified and God is able to use us.
Water is essential for survival, as every living thing would die without it. Did you know that 97% of water is undrinkable? Thankfully God designed the ocean to evaporate and rain down on us as purified water. When water freezes it gets lighter and floats, saving arctic sea life from getting squished under the weight of the ice.
What does the tired athlete ask for after he performs? Water. What is the word you hear from the traveler lost in the desert? Water. What do you hear from the sick and feverish man laying in his bed? Water. What does the wounded soldier on the battlefield cry for? Water. How beautiful it is that we come to the Living Water for nourishment. We must ask ourselves, Are we quenching our spiritual thirst with the one and only true source?
Have you ever been in such emotional pain that your heart felt like it was literally aching? The worst pain in this life is not always physical. Often times it’s the emotional pain of saying “good bye” that can drive us to our knees. It can make us lash out in anger. It can make the toughest man alive break down in tears, and it can crush a young person’s spirit. Why would a God of love and compassion let such a thing happen? If He cares, but He can’t do anything about it, wouldn’t that mean He’s not all powerful? If He doesn’t care, but He has the power, doesn’t that mean He’s cruel?
If you’ve got “heart pain” in your life, the best thing you can do is draw closer to God. Don’t isolate yourself from the only true source of comfort and healing. Don’t throw your head up to the sky, as if looking for some eye-contact with God. Rather, let your head fall to the scriptures. God will tell you that His ways are perfect, His word has been tried and tested, and He is the shield for those who decide to take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30).
He would also tell you that if you are a righteous individual, He’s going to deliver you from any trouble (Psalm 34:19). As a loving Father, God would tell you that He understands what you’re going through (Isaiah 53:3). God would tell you to hang in there because while there is suffering, heartache, and pain here, there is a place prepared by Him where none of that exists (John 14:2-4). God would ask you to draw near to Him, because if you do He will draw near to you (James 4:8).
We can’t always think of the appropriate words to say when someone is going through grief, but God always knows the right thing to say and He is perfect in all His ways. Bring Christ your broken life. He’ll fix it for you.
One of the hamstrings of most every church is a lack of dependable Christians. When Christians do show themselves undependable, they contribute so much to a church—much frustration, disappointment, and friction. We should all be dependable. You probably know little about Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah and Hanon. Little is said about them. But listen to what is said. They were placed in charge of the storehouses because “they were considered reliable” (Neh. 13:13).
What a glowing epitaph. One the other hand, David wrote of some wicked individuals, of whom he said, “There is nothing reliable in what they say” (Psa. 5:9). Too many otherwise good people are leaving such a reputation for themselves. In frustration, sometimes elders may join Solomon in asking, “Who can find a trustworthy man?” (Prov. 20:6). But, good news! We can all be dependable. Why?
First, we are ABLE. God blesses us with talents, time, and treasure. With them, we can (as good stewards) use our resources to God’s glory. If something hinders us from doing our duty, we can let others know and cover for us. But, whenever and wherever and however we can, we use ourselves as workers in the kingdom (Mat. 9:37).
Second, we are DEPENDENT. God pours blessings into our lives (Eph. 1:3; Js. 1:17). Without Him, we are nobody! Except God provided all our needs, we would be nowhere and have nothing. We are obligated, and our best efforts could never earn or repay God’s graciousness (Lk. 17:10). But, surely, appreciating His grace, we will be workmen (Eph. 2:8-10). When needs are made known by our elders or other church members—food or teachers or folks to visit or calls to make or new Christians to aid or missions to encourage or elderly, shut-ins to help—let us remember our dependence upon God and be dependable for those dependent folks around us.
Finally, you are thereby DEEPENED. When we do what we can in the kingdom, giving it our best, we are enriched and strengthened thereby. Our relationship with Christ is deepened, for we are imitating Him. Our appreciation for God’s blessings is deepened when we sacrifice and extend ourselves. Our faith is deepened by our interaction with those in need and by our participation in what needs doing. Our joy is deepened by being active and involved in the Lord’s work.
One song in our song book asks, “Can he depend on you?” If He has no hands but our hands to do His work today, shall we allow our hands to sit idle? Christianity is a commitment. It’s a wonderful commitment, but commitment nonetheless. Let us take it seriously and be a brother or sister upon whom our brethren and our God can rely!
I’ve never known a day when I didn’t live in a “preacher’s home.” “Preacher’s homes” are very much like every other home–problems, inside jokes, traditions, hobbies and interests, sin, laughter–except the chosen profession of the father is to serve either full-time or part-time as a proclaimer of God’s Word. At times, the home I grew up in was made of figurative glass, meaning I was occasionally subjected to unfair favoritism and criticism. Kathy, also a lifetime resident of a “preacher’s home,” knows that feeling, too. Then, we subjected our sons to the exact same thing!
Whenever we are asked about what it is like to live this unique life (and lifestyle), different words would be appropriate:
But, please understand that the most fitting, usual words used to describe the life in preaching are positive, superlative words and phrases–“important,” “exciting,” “fulfilling,” “full,” “rewarding,” “humbling,” “meaningful,”and “uplifting.” Yesterday, we said “so long” to one of God’s greatest churches as we prepare to move to work with another one. I asked Kathy to describe a one-word assessment that best described how she felt in light of the generous words and acts from our spiritual family throughout the day. She used words like “Overwhelmed,” “grateful,” and “touched.” But then, scanning her brilliant mind as if to find that perfect summary word (as she usually does), she simply said, “Blessed.”
We’ve been blessed by a lifetime of living the “preacher life.” Blessed by 27 years of full-time preaching. Blessed by 13 years of preaching at Bear Valley. Blessed by the opportunity to preach in this “next chapter” of life at Lehman Avenue. Blessed, as cracked pots (2 Cor. 4:7), to be used by the Master Potter. Far from a perfect life, it is certainly a blessed life.
When I was a student at Faulkner University, Schick Corporation sponsored a three-on-three intramural basketball competition known as Super Hoops. The school’s student activity director organized the tournament, and the winning team won a paid trip to the national tournament to compete for the national title. My senior year, four of us decided to form a team and compete for this coveted prize. We had a guy, Patrick Hunter, who was a slick ball handler and had been a point guard in High School. We had another guy, Bart Carter, who had actually played baseball at Mississippi State before transferring to Faulkner to become a Bible Major. There was me, more of an outside shooting threat if anything. But it was our fourth man, Mike Whisenant, who truly tipped the scales in our favor. He was a High School basketball star and was our big man. He also had a great shot, but we could depend on him to score inside consistently. Every team could have four players and you could rotate in and out to keep players fresh. But the guy who had to stay in, our workhorse, was Mike. It was certainly a team effort, but it was Mike who carried us to victory at Faulkner and punched our ticket to Atlanta. We got to stay at a very nice Hyatt hotel for free. We got meal vouchers, cool T-shirts, and I didn’t buy a razor for a couple of years. Although our glory was short-lived on the “national stage,” getting beat by Morehouse and then Valdosta State in a double-elimination format, we got to compete—thanks mostly to Mike’s skillset and abilities.
Perhaps that’s a crude way to illustrate a term used by Paul in Colossians 1:12, but follow me for a moment. Paul is in the middle of his prayer for the Colossians, telling them he wanted them (and by extension he wants us) to please God in all respects. The four ways to do that follow that imperative: bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks. Paul says to give thanks to the Father, “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” The word translated “qualified” here is only found one other time, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul says “our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” The same idea is conveyed in both passages.
Though I could not find the Greeks using this verb in an athletic sense, it literally means “to cause someone or something to be adequate for something” (Louw-Nida 678). The adverb form of the word appears many times in the New Testament, and means “sufficient in degree, sufficient, adequate, large enough” (Arndt, Danker, et al 472). Our word means to “render competent or worthy” (Zodhiates np). God is the cause of adequacy, the One who makes us competent and worthy to receive the inheritance. We have a part to play. We must be obedient, fruitful, knowledgeable, strong, and thankful. Without this proper response to God’s grace, we do not qualify for the prize. But, who is most responsible? Who do we most depend upon? It’s not us. It’s Him!
My illustration is feeble, but it helps give me a faint glimpse of what Paul is talking about. In an infinitely greater way, I owe my eventual, eternal prize to God’s ability and identity. But, because I want to please Him in all respects, I am going to work hard and with gratitude for the One who makes it all possible.
It was painful to watch my Georgia Bulldogs pulverized by the Auburn Tigers (my fellow Bronco fans can easily relate this year). Yet, later that Saturday evening, I found myself smiling and even cheering for a familiar face who was calmly embracing a signature win against college football’s number three team, Notre Dame. Level-headed. Even-keel. Happy. None of those words quite captured the way I wanted to describe Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt (former general of my beloved Dawgs). It was Dan Walken (USA Today, 11/13/17, 1C,6C) who found the one I was searching my mind for: “serene.” He is peaceful, placid, poised, and phlegmatic. But, as Walken points out, it’s not because the Hurricanes have ascended to number two in the Coaches and Press polls. He has been that all along, even the day he was fired at Georgia (his .740 winning percentage, 145-51, is the highest in college history for any coach ever to be fired). He was criticized for not being able to win the big game—which he still hasn’t. Second to that, the fan base was agitated that he was too concerned about his off-season mission work. There’s such an interesting story about how Richt came to faith, and how deeply his faith drives his life. Walken’s article mentions nothing of that, but few people who know about Richt fail to know how profoundly religion effects his life. It is, unquestionably, what drives his come-what-may serenity.
What characteristic best describes me? I know several I’d like for it to be, but, ultimately, I don’t get to describe myself. The people who know me or know about me get to do that. While the word “serene” is not found in most English translations, it is a biblical concept. 91 times, the New Testament uses a word (εἰρήνη—eirene) that is usually translated “peace.” Luke 11:21 has “undisturbed” (NASB). It can describe harmony between governments or in personal relationships, but it also describes a state of well-being within. In fact, that’s usually the way New Testament writers use it. Jesus says He offers a peace superior to what the world can give (John 14:27). A mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:6). The God of hope can fill you with peace in believing (Rom. 15:13). This peace passes all comprehension and guards your heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). It can rule your heart (Col. 3:15). It can be yours in every circumstance (2 Thes. 3:16). Repeatedly, Scripture promises peace to the disciple of Christ.
But our world continually scrambles to find it, much less maintain it. It seeks to achieve peace through alcohol and drugs, firearms, money and things, achievement and success, and other earthly things to plug that void. If at our core we do not fill ourselves with the peace of God, we will find ourselves futilely searching and never finding tranquility and undisturbed calm. Richt was able to smile and be joyful at the press conference that centered around his dismissal. You and I can embrace joy and steadiness in the darkest, most painful, moments of life. We never want false hope or empty peace. But a life directed and submissive to the pure, unadulterated Word and will of God leads to unshakable peace. No matter what comes our way!
Would people say I am serene? What about you?
Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!
We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.
We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:
We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.
We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.
Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.
How many times have you said that? You may project an air of confidence that would make it hard for anyone to think you felt that way or you may wear it on your sleeves. But, if honesty prevails, we’d all confess to wrestling with that thought. Daily! With Paul, facing the scope of our challenge, we exclaim, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). BDAG informs us that “adequate” means “sufficient in degree…large enough; pertaining to meeting a standard, fit…competent, qualified, able” (472). As Paul’s words are in the context of ministry, conscientious preachers who read that statement really get it. We’re fragile pottery entrusted with a perfect, eternal, and divine message (2 Cor. 4:7). Oh, how we feel our own humanity as we preach the mind of God to others struggling with their humanity. We know our every weakness better than anyone else does.
Yet, the struggle I mention is not just the preacher’s burden. The best Christians I know live each day fully aware of their inadequacies and insecurities. No matter how many good works they do, how faithful in attendance and duty they are, or how actively they seek opportunities to serve God, they struggle at times. May I suggest that this is one of the biggest blessings of living the Christian life. No, we don’t want to live in a shroud of guilt. Not at all! But, consider what happens when we acknowledge our glaring insufficiencies. We can see our utter dependency on God that much better.
Could Moses have really led the Israelites for 40 years on his own ingenuity and oratory? Could Jeremiah have really faced his audience on his own temerity? Could a renewed Peter have really preached that Pentecost sermon to Jesus’ killers on the merits of his own homiletic greatness? Could Paul have really transformed the first-century world on the foundation of his cosmopolitan experience and top-notch education from Gamaliel University?
Repeatedly, throughout His ministry, Jesus decries the Pharisaical tendency of trusting in self (Luke 16:5; 18:9). Ultimately, it’s a farce anyway. I may struggle with different weaknesses than you, but I still struggle. While that is never an excuse to give up and indulge in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2), it is a great, daily starting place to appreciate our need of God’s favor and friendship. We are not going to make it through this world on our own merits. As the beautiful old song suggests, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee….”
Here’s the beautiful thing that happens when we recognize our shortcomings and inabilities. We become an empty vessel that God can fill to accomplish His work. God will open doors of opportunity for us to do, by His might, what we could never have hoped to do without Him. Whether doors of service (teacher, elder, preacher, deacon, etc.), lives of holiness, or works of obedience, we will live in amazement of His power. Or, as Paul put it, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20-21). Take heart, Christian! You’re not doing this alone. You can’t! But, what can God not do? That thought is exciting and thrilling. With that in mind, no mountain is too formidable. He’s got this!
Dave Stewart, former Oakland A’s pitcher known for pitching well in the big games, was asked how he was able to shine when the spotlight was brightest. He explained that as children he and his brother would play against each other in the backyard. They would pretend they were in the “big game,” and it was always “3-2, with the bases loaded.” So, Dave would face the situation as if it were always the big game. He conditioned himself to confront the pressure situations, and through this he came to excel in the playoffs and World Series.
How do we excel in life? It is not by expecting and waiting for smooth sailing and an easy life. You do not grow in life when the sun is shining and there is zero wind resistance. Why not embrace challenges as catapults for personal growth? Look adversity in the eye and take it on.
The first-century church was in a situation where they faced opposition on an ongoing basis. They probably did not welcome this, but neither did they cower before it. In the face of fiery trials, they won the lost and kept the faith. In our own personal lives, we may dislike the thought of suffering. However, looking back, we may find these as the times where most growth occurred.
How do we face life? Are we looking for a beautiful, problem-free life? If so, we will be disappointed! More than that, we shall fail. We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God! Former Minnesota Vikings head football coach Dennis Green once told his team, “We are going to go on in the road, in the cold, in a hostile environment, and we don’t want it any other way.” That’s the philosophy to embrace in our spiritual lives. The world opposes us as we stand faithfully for Christ. That’s OK! It is a chance to excel to the glory of God.