My Girl

“They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world.”
John 17:16 (Common English Bible)
            Dylan Scott found the inspiration for his first Top 5 single, My Girl, from his high school sweetheart, Blair Anderson, now his wife. As Scott tells it, he recalls riding in his truck with Blair when an Eminem song came on the radio. The innocent Louisiana girl right next to him instantly switched gears – figuratively speaking – and began rapping the lyrics to “Lose Yourself,” leaving Scott shocked and inspired. Scott says that she scooted over close to him in the cab of the truck and she rapped the whole song. Later, Scott sat down to write a song about what happened, beginning with a few lines about the magic of emotions he experienced watching his girl rapping Eminem. Then it dawned on him – this was only one of the many, unexpected things he was privileged to see in “my girl” that no one else gets to see.
            “My Girl” is a love song composed by Dylan Scott that is deeply personal – Scott’s love story for Blair Anderson. Here, in John’s Gospel is another love story. Rather than a song, Jesus here composes a prayer to his heavenly Father expressing his love for us. And in this single sentence, from a longer prayer, Jesus utters something similar to Dylan Scott, “they don’t belong to this world.” What Jesus is saying is that he sees something in us that sets us apart from the rest of the world. When Jesus sees us, Jesus sees more, perhaps even more than we see in ourselves. Scott’s lyric, “But I bet they don’t see what I see when I see my girl, Oh, my girl” is spoken by Jesus first.
            What does Jesus see in us? Perhaps it is nothing more than what the old axiom states, “Love is blind.” Perhaps Jesus’ indescribable love for us has clouded the clarity of his vision; that Jesus sees something that is simply not there. In so many ways we are exactly like the world with it’s selfish desires, greed and, at times, insensitivity to others and cruelty. In a world that is largely defined by self-interest, we look no different. We do – in fact – belong to the world!
            On the other hand, a closer look at Jesus’ prayer reveals something more than a simple love for us. Two stanzas later in his love prayer, in verse 19, Jesus prays, “I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.” Jesus does not simply see us as we are at the moment. Jesus is looking at us through faith that we can be changed, made so much more than we are now. And the catalysis for that change will be Jesus himself. Jesus “made myself holy on their behalf” so that by our decision to live in him, we also will be made holy. An early lyric of Scott’s song, My Girl, is, “I can honestly say that she saved me, my girl.” Jesus is praying to his Father in heaven. And Jesus’s plea to his Father is, “I honestly believe, I can change them; I can save them.” Jesus then directed his face to the cross.


Sabal Palmetto

“After a whirlwind passes by, the wicked are no more, but the righteous stand firm forever.”
Proverbs 10:25 (Common English Bible)
            This official Florida state tree boasts a higher wind resistance than any other palm, according to a research study conducted by Mary Duryea, University of Florida associate dean of research, and reported in an issue of Coastal Living magazine.[i]Consequently, this is one of the trees most favored by landscapers when planting by the shore. Strong Caribbean winds have little effect upon the Sabal Palmetto. They remain, for the most part, unshakeable in all conditions of weather.
            A major theme of Proverbs, and notably of this passage, is that how we choose to live has ultimate consequences. Those who live foolishly are those who have chosen to live according to every desire of their heart. This is a decision to ignore the wisdom of God and God’s direction for living. When the storms of life blow, as they inevitably do for each of us, we are swept away. This is not God’s punishment for ignoring God’s wisdom. Becoming “swept away” by the strong winds that beat against us, from time to time, is the natural consequence of the poor decisions we make. It is no different from the natural consequence of choosing to plant a tree by the shore that has low wind tolerance.
            A poor landscaping choice, when selecting a tree to plant near the shore, is the Washington Fan Palm. This tree scores low on wind-resistance. The selection of this tree to plant near the sea indicates that no care was given to the decision or that the conventional wisdom for landscaping was ignored. The inevitable result, during a tropical storm, is that this tree is likely to be uprooted and swept away. The landscaping will be, as Proverbs states it, “no more.” It is simply a natural consequence of a poor landscaping decision.
            Proverbs announces that God has rigged the universe for righteousness – that is, life that is built upon wisdom shall, “stand firm forever.” God’s ways are not simply a preference that God has for our lives. God understands what makes life work, and what makes life fail. God’s wisdom, shared generously in the scriptures, is simply a gracious invitation to live wisely, that we may endure the storms that come in every life. And when the strong Caribbean winds of hardship and difficulty blow across our path, we will stand firm. That is because our life has been planted on the enduring foundation of God’s wisdom.

[i] Marisa Spyker, “5 Trees to Plant by the Sea: What works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to planting trees by the shore,” Coastal Living, March, 2013.

Vintage Sand Pails

“They call all sorts of people to the mountain, where they offer right sacrifices. It’s true: 
They’re nourished on the sea’s abundance; they are nourished on buried treasures in the sand.”
Deuteronomy 33:19 (Common English Bible)
     A throwback beach toy, vintage sand pails “carry summertime nostalgia in spades,” writes Betsy Cribb in a recent issue of Coastal Living magazine.[i]Cribb laments the loss of the old metal beach pails that have now given away to their plastic counterparts. The first of these colorful metal sand pails popped up on American beaches in the mid-1800s. But it would be another 30 years, when trains made travel to the beach available to a wider population that the little pails skyrocketed in popularity. Cribb writes that early versions were hand-painted in just one or two colors and lacquered for a glossy finish. But chromolithography (a multicolor printing process) enabled toy-makers to crank out pails with detail illustrations in bright, saturated hues. Original metal sand pails are now in demand by a new generation as great decorative and collectible pieces as a plant holder or vintage décor piece for beach homes and cottages.
     Often, children used sand pails for building sandcastles – some pails included a shovel and a variety of molds with which one could make interesting sand sculptures. Also popular with children was the use of the pails, with contrasting handles, to gather collectibles from the sea and the beach such as seashells, sea glass, buttons, and pebbles. The ocean and the shore presented gifts in abundance for the curious seeker with the determination and energy to scan the water and sand for them. With lighthearted and cheerful illustrations, these metal sand pails offered families colorful, and inexpensive, mini-beach playsets that provided hours of enjoyment for their children.
     Here, in this rich passage from Deuteronomy, God speaks of extracting from the sea’s abundance the nourishment the people required and gathering multiple treasures from the sand. As children on our beaches, running cheerfully with sand pail in hand, collecting from the abundance of God’s varied gifts, God invites us to notice and collect the gifts God has given us. The days of limited resources for God’s people are over. God has a new lifestyle in mind for us. The time of struggle has past and now, as the people settled in God’s promised territory, they would be nourished on, “the sea’s abundance; they are nourished on buried treasures in the sand.” The function of these few verses is to shift the focus from Israel’s behavior to God’s ultimate purpose to bless God’s people.
     And here is the good news! The law of God, with all its demands upon the people, is thus subordinated to the overriding purpose – and desire – of God for his people. God’s love and concern for the welfare of the people is declared in spite of the people failing God and one another. In the end, our disobedience to God will not stop God from blessing us. God simply cannot help but to shower blessings upon those God loves. This becomes an occasion for joy in every aspect of our lives – an occasion for us to respond by coming before God, on God’s mountain, where we present “right sacrifices” that we might share God’s blessings with others.         

[i] Betsy Cribb, “Vintage Sand Pails: The throwback beach toys carry summertime nostalgia in spades.” Coastal Living, July/August, 2017, page 24. 

Plan B

“When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, 
but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead.”
Acts 16:7, 8 (Common English Bible)
            From the Riverside Church pulpit of New York City, Harry Emerson Fosdick began a sermon, “Even in ordinary times few persons have a chance to live their lives on the basis of their first choice.”[i]The sermon was preached in 1944 and remains as timely today as it was then. A distinguished preacher, Fosdick’s sermons reached a broader audience than the Riverside Church. Once identified as one of America’s towering religious leaders, pastors from around the nation would travel to New York City to be coached toward more effective preaching in their own pulpits. Quite simply, Fosdick would teach that effective preaching met the pressings needs of the person in the pew. That morning in 1944, Fosdick did exactly that in grand fashion. His starting point was a common human condition – having to do the best we can with our second and third choices in life.
            Fosdick found a natural place to begin in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. The apostle Paul, along with his traveling companions, most urgently desired to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.” Declaring the Gospel of Christ from a pulpit square in the middle of Bithynia was Paul’s first choice. Denied his first choice, Paul traveled to Troas instead. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing before Paul, urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us! (Acts 16:9)” Paul had not planned that! Paul had not intended to go to Europe. It would be a stretch to say that Europe was Paul’s second choice – so focused he was on Bithynia. Paul had not considered a second choice. But a second choice is what Europe became.
            Well, wanting Bithynia and getting Troas is a familiar experience, declared Fosdick. Each of us set our sights on our own Bithynia and there is nothing wrong with that! Perhaps it is pursuing an education at a particular college, aspiring to a particular career, or entering a deeply meaningful and fulfilling relationship with another person. Casting our sights on something purposeful demonstrates hopefulness and energy and joy in living. But for many of us, our expectations are disappointed. Our eyes are directed toward Bithynia and we find ourselves in Troas.
            Paul was not permitted to enter Bithynia, to have his first choice in life and in ministry. And his response to receiving second best is instructive to us. Paul did not slump in defeat and disappointment. Paul was not immobilized by despair. A man from Macedonia came to Paul in a dream and urged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” And when Paul received this vision, he went immediately to Macedonia, concluding that this is God’s call and claim upon him. In this brief and simple act of obedience, Paul changed to course of the Christian faith! That is because Paul’s ministry in Macedonia set in motion particular opportunities that resulted in nearly two-thirds of our New Testament. Paul believed that if God led him to Troas instead of Bithynia, there must be something in Troas worth discovering.

[i] Halford R. Ryan, “Handling Life’s Second-Bests” Harry Emerson Fosdick: Persuasive Preacher(New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), p. 117.