Are you a beach person? That question was put to me for the first time AFTER moving to Pennsylvania. Since I was born and raised in Chicago and nearby regions, I might be asked if I were a “north-sider” or a “south-sider,” which is essentially asking if I root for the Cubs or the White Sox. But no one ever asked me about the beach.
So the first time someone in Pennsylvania told me they were going to the beach I wondered, are they talking about Brady’s Run or maybe Lake Tomahawk? I didn’t know it was code for a trip to the Atlantic.
But now I know. In fact, I have now taken a number of trips to the beach myself, including this summer. They have featured things like jellyfish stings, shark sightings and sunburns, which leave me asking, “Now, why do I go to the beach?” This year it was rip tides. On our final day, the rip tide warnings were out in a big way. Newscasts were highlighting the expected dangers of the deadly currents, my phone was flashing alerts and the lifeguards had posted warning flags near the water and on signs to advise all would-be swimmers of the threats.
I was curious to see how the potential dangers would influence the behavior of beach-goers that day. It didn’t. The water was populated as it had been every other day. Parents too tired to build yet another sand castle with their preschoolers were saying, “The water looks fun today, why don’t you go play in it.” And they did. I did, too.
Now, as far as I know, no children were swept out into the ocean that day, but it did cause me to reflect a little bit once I was back on the beach, deepening the crimson tones of my sunburn. Why, when we know of the presence of danger in our lives, and I’m thinking primarily of our spiritual lives, do we willingly put ourselves in its path? We have the warnings of others, the signs from God’s word, the flags of danger, but we ignore them. Perhaps our inattention is because we don’t think the problem applies to us, or that the malady won’t actually materialize, as I’m sure it was with my beach-going peers. But, it is that casual attitude toward spiritual danger, or sin, that leaves us vulnerable. That’s why Paul, when writing in 1 Timothy 6 about all sorts of traps and dangers, says in verse 11, “But you, man of God, flee from all this.” We shouldn’t be surprised when we play around dangers and get taken into deeper waters of sin and drown in our own waywardness.
Another reality struck me as I inhabited the tiny island of shade my beach umbrella was providing that day — the manner in which one escapes a rip tide. The natural inclination when being forced from the shore is to head straight back toward it. However, that is the worst approach possible. The power of the current will quickly tire the one who is trapped and the resulting fatigue is typically the reason people die in rip tides.
The simple and effective method for overcoming a rip tide is to swim parallel to the shore line, which will provide far less resistance and bring the nearest relief from the powerful current going out to sea. How many times in our spiritual lives do we find ourselves trapped in the strong currents of sin and temptation, desiring to find relief, so we just try to reverse course and back out the way we came in. It makes sense on the surface and even seems the spiritually expedient thing to do, but we don’t make the progress we think we should or we just keep getting pulled back in. That is because we’ve chosen the wrong path to freedom.
Could it be that our best path to victory over sin isn’t to just commit to fight the current, reverse course and stop sinning as best we can, but to escape the temptation by a different route? If we’re going to find the ultimate victory, we need to escape the danger by swimming in a different direction, if you will, toward God’s forgiveness and promises. It is only as we acknowledge that we don’t have the power to save ourselves, and start resting on the work of Christ, that we can truly overcome. On this point Paul wrote about the guidance the Lord gave him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul added, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). The grace we all need to overcome doesn’t come through our own might. It comes through swimming into the arms of the One who promises to apply His strength to our need.
So, am I a beach person? Probably not, but I’ve learned some powerful lessons there. And if you ask me to go, I’ll at least know you’re not inviting me to Darlington Lake.
— Pastor Jeff