First Time

Monday afternoon I did it—took the new kayak into the ocean for the First Time. What did I learn?

Last year was my First Time to paddle the ocean. Loved it! Lost a pair of sunglasses trying to get out once, but otherwise it was great. Scuppers in this new kayak allow in-washing water to drain. Nice!—no more sitting in my own sea. But I am positioned higher in this boat, so it feels less stable. Incautious angling into swells and rough waves will more easily dunk me into the drink.

First Times accost us throughout life. Our first step, first bike ride, first school day, first car, first kiss. I remember the first time I kissed Glenna. It was nice, but I drove home with the taste of lip­stick on my mouth. Wasn’t expecting that. A church has First Times, too. They are the only way we grow—individually or corporately.

Because we have no experience with them, First Times often excite or unnerve as they approach; we observe their coming with either delight or dread. But unless we wish to miss life, growth, and progress, when the right First Times beckon, we wel­come them as friends—particularly if we sense that the Lord himself is opening this dreadful door before us. Then we buck up, believe, and bolt in.

God’s people do not always react this way when First Time opportunities approach. It would be better if we did. The First (and only) Time the Lord invited Peter to walk on water, the apostle was perfectly safe. But he didn’t think so as he watched the waves, and so sank. The First Time God invited Israel to occupy her Promised Land the nation heeded fears instead. That doubting generation wandered and died, until their children were graciously offered a Second Chance. Sometimes what derails us is not disbelief, but downright disobedience. The First Time Jonah was commanded to warn Nineveh, he took off for Tarshish. Didn’t do him much good. After three days in a fish’s guts he was more willing to obey the Second Time God called.

Some First Times are more crucial than others. These require preparation before we embrace them, or they us. With sky diving, it is usually best to get it right the First Time. Same with dying. Most of us only get one shot at it. Better to be ready and do it well.

Disappointed

It has happened to all of us. Our dreams faded. If they did come true, things turned out not as great as imagined. Nothing lasted. The bouquet of a new relationship hid thorns and poison ivy. Our new boat wasn’t as fast as hyped. We planned a picnic and it poured.

Disappointments can dull our delight in doing deeds for God. Elijah: “It is enough, O Yahweh. Take my life; I am no better than my fathers.” Jesus: “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” People do not respond. People do not mature. People do not help. People gripe.

Friends may offer empty platitudes rather than trying to understand us: “You are all worthless physicians. O that you would be completely silent!” Leaders can disappear: “Make us godswho will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Family may fail: “His own brothers did not believe in him.” Even Mother Nature may let us down. Desert nomads know where the wadis run. Should a caravan come to one without water, disaster looms. “My brothers have acted deceitfully like the torrents of wadis that vanish. The travelers of Sheba hoped for them. They were disappointed for they had trusted, they came there and were confounded.”

Well, this is all so positive and uplifting. Thanks, Pastor Russ, for such an encouraging Back Page.

But before you go, recall those things that do not disappoint. Testing produces perseverance, character, hope; “and hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” This hope anchors our souls, because the promising God is faithful. “The vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and will not fail. Though it tarry wait for it, for it will certainly come.”

When we see heaven, when we see Jesus, we will not be disappointed that we gave up a few trinkets to know him and lay up treasure in his presence. “In you our fathers trusted and were not disappointed.” “Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear Yahweh. You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed.” “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; he who believes in him will not be disappointed.”

Thinning

Second Cape’s cemetery sits across the street and borders Seaside. Early in ’18, after a gap of decades, I strolled again among the stones. We are all grateful for Jay’s mowing and basic tree maintenance there, but more remains to be done.

Sometimes to break from desk work I grab gloves, bow saw, and pruners, and stretch my weary bones. The first to go were the vines—poison ivy, of course, but also grape. “Grape? Why grape? Don’t you like that fruit?” I do. But our cemetery is not the place to grow it. The leafy vines kill the trees. After I climbed, cut, pulled, and groaned, down they came.

Trees were next. Some had grown on the graves, splitting headstones from bases. It was work to grub them out. I like trees, but the primary purpose of that plot of land is to provide a place of repose for people who have passed. So if trees were wrecking the graves, out they came. After the splitters, unwanted crowders had to go. The line that separates Second Cape from Seaside has become home to unwanted species that crowd and misshape the trees we want. Sassafras and wild cherry, for example. Though perfectly healthy, down they fell.

Could trees talk they might protest: “What are you doing? I am a healthy tree! I have grown here for years! What do you mean by cutting me down, and who gave you the right?” My motiva­tion is not hatred of trees, but desire to restore the cemetery to its primary purpose, and to improve the health, beauty, and symmetry of the trees that remain. Jesus spoke similarly: “I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it so that it will be even more fruitful.” Ouch! God prunes us. Cuts away perfectly good growth in our individual and church lives—even fruitful growth. The process is painful. We don’t understand it. Does he not love us, or appreciate the fruit we are bearing?

Of course he loves us. But he sees the big picture. He prunes to make us more fruitful, to restore us to our primary purpose. “See, I have appointed you this day to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Tearing down must often precede building up. Let us let God do his work among us.

New

A new dress. A new shirt. A new car. A new friendship. How we value these things! A new way of doing things? Not so much.

God stays the same, but regularly revises his methods. His relationship with humans changed after Noah—meat as food, capital punishment for murderers, the promise of the rainbow. His choosing Abram and renaming him Abraham initiated a new divine modus operandi. Or what about the union in the Christian Church of Jews and Gentiles? Jesus abolished in his flesh the enmity between these two classes “so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” He accomplishes this through inaugurating “a new covenant with Israel and Judah, not like the covenant I made when I took their fathers by the hand to bring them out of Egypt.” God will some day make a new heaven and a new earth.

If you own a personal copy of the Bible, translated into your native tongue and printed in book form; if you drove to church and value our chairs and air conditioners; if you have watched a Chris­tian movie or listened to a gospel CD; if you prefer a jet over a sailing ship as your means of transportation to missionary ventures; then you profit from New Things never envisioned in Acts.

God not only does new things. He likes new things—“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.” He gives new things—“Those who wait for Yahweh will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” He provides old things in new measure—“Yahweh’s lovingkindnesses and compas­sions are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” The blood of Jesus opens up “a new and living way.”

It should not be news that “new” is used 176 times in the Bible. If we wish to walk with this innovative God, let us expect him to lead us into deeper levels of closeness with him, and fresh avenues of service for him. “I will put a new spirit within them. I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” Not that we automatically eject all that is old—“Every scribe who has become a disciple of the Kingdom is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Still, the security we sense by insisting on sameness may be our own worst enemy.

Second Cape

Descend, O Muse, and sing of Second Cape!
Rehearse the whole; let not a soul escape
Of all who worship here, and serve so well.
Though long you sing, the half you shall not tell.

Sing first of him who with his saw and drill
Doth mend our walls. I speak of Mike DuBruille.
He is our coach. He hath served overseas,
And often prays to God upon his knees.

Sing sweetly, Muse, of wondrous Winders twain.
To wit, of Deacon Robert and Elaine
Who lead our children’s program ev’ry week
And other opportunities do seek.

There is no one among us can complain
Of all the flow’rs that bloom because of Jane.
The walkway to our Hall sports ev’ry hue
Thanks to the faithful gard’ning she doth do.

And now, O Muse, I pause and know not whether
To ask song first for John, or his wife Heather.
John teacheth ev’ry Sunday. And his wife
Doth add great luster to our church’s life.

We hold in hand a paper that doth speak
Of all ’twill happen here this very week.
Why are our bulletins not dull or bland?—
The artistry of Secretary Anne.

Sing next, O Muse, of Edward who doth clean
Our buildings, and doth much behind the scene.
Thou wouldst be wrong, and certainly remiss,
Shouldst thou not sing of sweet musician Chris,

And others who with her do sing and play
Before the pastor comes to preach and pray.
As I had warned, the half hath not been said.
But space is gone, and time to speak hath sped.

There are so many others in our ranks
Who should be recognized with grateful thanks!