A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm


A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!”  Psalm 32:1

It’s summertime, which means it’s beach time.  Actually, anytime can be beach time since it’s as much a state of mind as it is a state of destination.  As is true for dehydrated foods, so it is true for dehydrated souls; if you need to be refreshed…just add water!  I love to go to the beach, but for me it is far more of a spiritual retreat than a “fun in the sun” vacation.  There’s something about the vastness of the ocean that reminds me, again, of the enormity of God.  There’s something about the depth of the waters that causes me to contemplate the unfathomable nature of God.  There’s something about the realization that many things lie under the surface of the water, things unseen but definitely present, that reminds me there are aspects of God that I accept by faith and not by sight.  And then there is the shoreline; the sand…and the waves…and their feel….and their sound.  Yes, a walk on the beach is like a walk through God’s closet; it’s personal, it’s crammed with His belongings, it contains things that reveal His personality and taste, it contains items that are custom made, and everything bears His scent.

Sometimes my get-a-ways aren’t physically possible, but thankfully the mental train is always accessible and ready for boarding.  So today, as I read through Psalm 32, I took a walk on the beach.  The first two verses are the ones that led me to the water’s edge as I read the following:

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”

As I read these verses, I thought I’d do a quick word study on the three seemingly synonymous words of transgression, sin, and iniquity.  Then, while the shovel was out, I dug up the Hebrew meanings of forgiven, covered, and impute.  That’s when the footprints emerged and, just as quickly, were filled.  I was at the beach and the waves were washing over my feet.

In the verses written above, transgressions are forgiven, sins are covered, and iniquities are not imputed.  As I sought out the original Hebrew meaning for these words, I learned that transgressions are rebellions, sins are offenses, and iniquities are deliberate acts of evil.  With each word, the intensity of the deed increased.  Then, when looking up the “filling” for each of these wrongdoings, I discovered forgiven means to take away, covered means to fill up the hollows, and impute means to devise.  Just as footprints in the sand are quickly covered by the incoming waves, so too are each of these wrongs completely filled by the waters of God’s love.  Where the imprints of rebellion are evident, God’s mercy carries them away; where the hollows of offenses are revealed, God’s grace fills them in; and where the tracks of evil are etched, God’s redemption does not allow them to remain.

How wonderful it is to know that our lives can become as smooth as the shoreline when we allow God’s waves to wash over us.  While we can move away from the water’s edge and leave behind all kinds of evidence of our time at the beach, it is absolutely impossible to walk along the water’s edge and override the gentle push/pull power of the waves.  Even the mechanics of waves reflect their Engineer.  The crest of the wave gradually overtakes the trough of the wave and, when the bottom of the wave hits the bottom of the shore, it “crashes” upon the sand.  This process not only deposits things onto the shore (fish, shells, seaweed, boogie boards…with and without riders), but it also pulls things from the shore (crabs, sandcastles, footprints…with and without the feet that left them).  Within each wave we see a reflection of the God who designed it:  grace, like the crest, brings abundance from God’s hand and mercy, like the trough, pulls back that which needs to be submerged…perhaps even buried on the ocean’s floor…and we are left with a smooth shoreline.

The one necessary element, however, is that one must walk where the water meets the sand.  If we want to keep our sandy surface smooth but don’t want to live close to the ocean, then we’ll find that those imprints of transgression, the hollows of sin, and the tracks of iniquity are never washed away.  The individual footprints may become undetectable as more and more are placed over them, but they are never smoothed over, never washed away, never filled in.  Only one’s proximity to the ocean can bring the desired effect of a smooth shoreline.  And, when the waters have washed over the sand, not only is the surface renewed, but it also strengthened.  Dry sand is difficult to walk in; wet sand is much more traversable.  Not only do the waves fill in our gaps and carry away our clutter, but they also make our lives more navigable, and not just for us but for others as well.  With whom would you rather journey, one whose life has been washed over by the waves of mercy and grace or one whose life knows no watering except that which comes from his own hose?

Today, I went to the beach.  Today, I allowed God’s waves of grace and mercy to wash over my feet.  Today, I sank my toes in the sands of His forgiveness as I let the waters of His truth carry away my transgressions, fill up the hollows of my sins, and discard the shells of my iniquities.  The trip was not nearly as long as I would have liked, nor was there any fresh seafood, but the packing and unpacking process was easy and there isn’t a mountainous pile of laundry to do…well, at least not as the result of a lengthy vacation!  Maybe if I sprinkle sand over my pile of dirty clothes I will get the feel of having been to the beach…

flip flops

A Rabbit, an Apostle, and a Net

A Rabbit, an Apostle, and a Net

       “For my eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.”                                                                                                                                        -Psalm 25:15

If you are a follower of Christ, then you are familiar with nets and their ability to entangle.  I know this because the very process of moving from unbeliever to believer involves the recognition that you are in a net and that you need help in removing yourself from its clutches.  You realize you are trapped and that only the Son of Man holds the power to pluck your feet from the net.  Recently, I was reminded of the power of nets and of their presence in our lives.  Even after we have been rescued from the net of unbelief and are safely in the arms of our Net Breaker, we will still, from time to time, encounter other nets that lie hidden along our path.  These nets await those who wander off the designated path and their purpose is to slow up one’s movement, to hold captive one’s belongings, and to ultimately impede one’s travel.  Such was the case for me.

Recently, I found myself caught in a net.  As I struggled to get free, the net tightened its grip and lessened the likelihood of my freedom.  But God, in His tireless mercy, plucked my feet out of the net.  When this happened, I couldn’t help but think of the Tale of Peter Rabbit and, in doing so, realized that Peter and I had a lot in common.

In Peter’s case, his detour led him into Mr. McGregor’s garden where, after a short feast on lettuce, and carrots, and peas (oh my!), he was spotted by the gardener and fled for safety.  But rather than finding a way of escape, he found a net of entanglement.  The buttons on his jacket held him captive and he quickly realized that there would be a cost to his freedom:  his beautiful blue jacket.  Peter did manage to wriggle out of the jacket and the net, but he didn’t leave the garden as he had entered it.  Gone were his jacket and also his shoes, which he’d flung from his feet during his sprint to the gate.  In my case, a detour also resulted in a net and the freedom from it came with a cost; I too had to leave things behind in order to be free.

Upon realizing my kinship with this fictional bunny, I thought, “Why couldn’t I be more like Peter the Apostle rather than Peter the Rabbit?”  Peter has always been one of my favorite Bible personalities.  He was passionate, determined, and a doer.  Before he set his eyes on Jesus, he had already set his heart on Him.  (In John 1:41, when Andrew told Peter about Jesus he said, “We have found the Messiah.” This shows they had been earnestly seeking Him.)  Peter was impulsive, which sometimes led to less than ideal responses such as, “You shall never wash my feet, Lord.”  (John 13:8 paraphrased) and less than ideal reactions such as the cutting off of a soldier’s ear (John 18:10).  But to Peter’s credit, these fumbles only show his love and commitment for his Lord; they show his desire to declare and defend the Son of God.  That’s who I want to be like!  That’s the consuming passion I want to exhibit!  True, there are some messes along the way, but at least this Peter didn’t get hung up in a net…or did he?

Peter was a fisherman, so he would have come in contact with a lot of nets.  They were a tool of his trade.  He bought them, cast them, cleaned them, and mended them.  But did he ever get stuck in them?  Yes, he did; even the apostle Peter had encounters with nets of entrapment.  There were two types of nets that caught Peter.  The first was the figurative net of fear; this one wrapped around him on the night of Jesus’ arrest and of his all too well documented denials.  Having seen Jesus’ arrest, and His acceptance of it, Peter followed after his shackled Lord.  But in the midst of confusion and mind-numbing incomprehension, Peter’s fear overtook him.  Reeling from the night’s events, Peter denies three times that he is in any way associated with Jesus.  Denial number one, “I am not a disciple of Jesus!”…left foot enters net; denial number two, “No, I am not His disciple!”…right foot enters net; denial number three, “I was not in the garden with this Man!”… net closes and secures its prey.  (Read John 18:15-27 for this account.)

The second net that caught Peter was the literal net of uncertainty.  Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and appearance to the disciples, Peter still didn’t know what to do.  So, he did what most of us do when we don’t know what to do…we do what we know.  For Peter, that meant fishing and for this, he was going to need a net.  But this time, Peter’s net was going to be cast by another and Peter, the fisherman, was about to become the catch of the day.  His efforts to catch any fish were futile; he and his friends headed for shore but before they arrived, Jesus instructed them to cast their nets one more time…one last time…into the sea.  As they threw out their nets, Jesus also threw out His.  With one swoop, both nets were filled to overflowing.  Peter’s net was full of fish; Jesus’ net was full of fishermen.  But, before the fisherman could be released to go and become fishers of men, they first had to be freed from the net.

For Peter, this was a painful process as he found that he couldn’t be released from the second net of uncertainty until he had first been freed from the first net of fear.  He still battled those denials; he still heard a recording of those words play in his mind again and again.  It was deafening…and paralyzing.  Jesus knew this and so He placed a new recording in Peter’s mind; a new declaration and direction for each denial.  To cover denial number one, Peter now heard his voice say, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”, to which Jesus replied, “Feed My lambs.”  To cover denial number two, Peter’s voice now sounded, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”, to which Jesus responded, “Tend My sheep.”  And, for the third and final recording, Peter heard himself say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”, to which Jesus lovingly said, “Feed My sheep.”  Net severed, freedom granted; fears erased, future established.

Two different stories, one fictional and one factual, but both with lessons learned through nets and both with truths that apply to us today.  Peter Rabbit was caught in a net and lost his coat and shoes.  Peter the apostle was caught in a net and lost his fear and uncertainty.  Peter Rabbit’s coat and shoes were strung up in Mr. McGregor’s garden to deter others from making the same mistake; Peter the apostle’s mistakes are strung up in the New Testament for much the same purpose, but also to allow others to see that entanglements can happen to us all but through God’s grace we too can be cut free and given a new declaration and a new direction.  So, maybe I am more like Peter (the apostle, not the rabbit) than I thought.  Of course, having already established a connection between myself and Peter Rabbit, this new found connection to Peter the apostle simply means that I have inadvertently connected Simon Peter with Peter Rabbit; I am the missing link.  For that snag, I apologize…darn those nets!!!