Surfing in Ventura

Marilyn and I were in Southern California over the holidays. All our kids and grandkids were together at our son’s home in Ventura, a beach city.

One afternoon, a couple vans-ful of us rolled down to a local beach park. Ventura doesn’t have sandy stretches of ocean shore quite like Newport or Huntington, but it was a beach. Mostly, though, it was a park.

The grandkids squealed as they ran up and down the grassy hills, sailed down a long zip line into a pile of sand, and splashed in the wintery Pacific.

Brrrr. I’m such a wus, I didn’t even touch the water.

There were people out there surfing, and man, the waves were spectacular. Tiny surfers vanished under the curl, so the waves must have been cresting at ten to fifteen feet.

Listening to the ocean crash on the stone breakwater … watching gulls soaring and singing in the cloudless sky … staring at the perfectly crisp, distant blue-on-blue horizon … breathing deeply … smelling the salt air. It was a spiritual moment.

I felt like Jeremiah when he visited the potter’s house. Watched the wheel as the artisan’s muddy hands shaped and reshaped the clay. God was in the moment.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, o are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

The surfers surfed and God spoke: Life and ministry are like surfing. You have learn how to do it, and you have to get out there in the water. But there’s nothing you can do to make the waves.

I thought about my life. About my years as a pastor of an amazing church. Looking back, I remember how hard I worked. How much energy so many people put into making our ministry what it was.

Yet sitting there at the ocean park in Ventura, California, watching the waves roll in, I was reminded again of how everything is in God’s hands. I felt like God was thanking me for my obedience, for my faithfulness through the years. I imagined the face of God. His eyes twinkled in a wry smile, because even though I’d be the first to tell you that he’s totally in control, I’ve often not actually lived that way.

When we’re caught in the moment of life’s challenges, so much seems to depend on me. On you. On what we do or don’t do. Yeah, you gotta learn how to surf. You gotta get into the chilly water, but if the ocean is as calm as frozen pond, there’s nothing you can do. You just ain’t gonna surf. It’s God who rules the wind and waves.

Through the years, I’ve taught so much about grace, about Jesus plus nothing, yet all the while stressing about so many things. I can so identify with Jesus’ frenzied friend Martha. I used to say: Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen, and some people wonder what happened. So I spent my life making things happen, believing I was making the wave, when all along I was just riding the will of God.

Now more than ever I see that everything I’ve done was God’s plan in God’s time. Proverbs 16:9 tells us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

If only you and I could embrace this in every season, in every moment of life. Try this on a bad day, on any day: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).

Here’s another simple but utterly liberating command: “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:14-15). In other words, invite Jesus into every moment, every thought, and the presence of God will keep you safe inside.

Ocean. Wind. Sky.

Near me and far away I hear, “Pa! Pa! Look at me, pa!” The cheerful voices of my grandchildren rescue me from my deep thoughts, but I can’t stop thinking as I watch them in their happy moment. How long will it take the cares of this life to enslave their carefree? How will each of them meet God and learn his ways? When will they experience not only the joy of a breezy day at a beach park, but the peace of God that passes all understanding?

When will you?

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