The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Love

A violinist playing romantic melodies, surrounded by heart balloons; in the doorway of a jewelry store; if that doesn’t capture the vibe of Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what does. Sue and I were in the city on business and Panama has fully embraced this holiday. We saw workers dressed as cupids; a giant teddy bear handing out chocolate samples, couple’s specials on the menus; red and white everywhere. We even saw a great Valentine’s Day discount on a big-screen TV! There’s nothing like buying a present that will enable you to ignore your loved one till next February.

Valentine’s Day has ancient roots. So ancient, they can’t be pinned down. It probably began as a Roman fertility holiday wisely supplanted by the ancient church with a more Christian celebration. And Saint Valentine? The legends abound, but again go back so far (270 A.D.) that no one can say for sure. There are two Valentines in church history, and both appear so early that they might even be the same person. In both cases, the man bearing the name was martyred for his faith in Christ. In that sense it’s not a bad thing that the name Valentine is identified with love.

Some people blame the modern Valentine’s Day on the Hallmark Card Company, but the celebration went awry long before the card industry … or even before the United States. Romantic verses associated with Valentine’s Day have been found dating back to the 1500s. Commercially printed Valentine’s cards appeared in the late 1700s but not until the 1850s in North America. We may have shown the world how to milk it for all its commercial worth … but you can’t blame the whole mess on my country.

Is Valentine’s Day a mess? Not entirely. I don’t think it’s wrong for a husband and wife to use the date to do something special to celebrate their love. But … I’m pretty sure that the original Mr. Valentine would not appreciate all that’s done under his name.

Our gracious Heavenly Father invented human love and the context for its right expression. Jesus, when asked about marriage, made this very clear, “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:4–6

So, what should a Christian celebrate … exclusivity, faithfulness and a lifelong bond between one man and one woman. Pastors are sadly and sympathetically aware that this doesn’t always happen in our fallen world. A broken reality doesn’t negate God’s beautiful intent or the fact that Jesus’ words describe God’s will for those who choose marriage. I’ll close with some of the most romantic and beautiful words on marriage that I’ve found in the Bible,

May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer … may you ever be captivated by her love. Proverbs 5:18–19

Thank you Sue for 31 Valentine’s Days … and approximately 11,293 days of love!
 
 
 


Up in the Air

There’s a distinctive rattle that belongs to a bike with training wheels. But hearing that sound from where I sit still surprises me. It causes me to look. There she goes, bobbed black hair and pink dress trailing in her wake. She cruises by without a care in the world. Sometimes she stops to quietly peer through our window. She’s an impassive little soul with a round face and large dark eyes. Unlike her bothers at that age, she is quiet and slow to smile. They were always roaring past the window pushing … or chasing one another on the scooter they shared. They would stop also and examine me with cupped hands to the window. I was the slower part of their entertainment.

I have worked for the past six years on the same street where their parents own a restaurant. The little path outside my window is their playground. I have watched them grow. It seems like only yesterday when the bothers were trying to contain their toddling baby sister. Now she’s out on her own doing laps with her training wheels. The story sounds quite mundane … except that it happens every day, thirty feet in the air!

The children I’ve just described have learned to walk and scooter and bike three stories up. Their parent’s restaurant is in the food court just down from Coronado Bible Church. It used to worry me seeing the children playing between our windows and the wrought iron railing. The bike is a relatively new addition and when I think of the context, it still strikes me as absurd; training wheels thirty feet in the air.

Thirty feet up is not the normal environment for children to try their training wheels … but it is normal for one little girl. A cement walkway bordered by windows and iron railings doesn’t sound too bad, but it is not without risks. There are steep stairwells along the path; real peril around the little girl on her bike. Still, I doubt she ever thinks about the height or the consequences of falling.

I haven’t worked out all the parallels, but I want something of that abandon in my walk with my Savior. In obedience to Christ’s commands, I want to go places and do things that others might not dare to do. I want to walk in faith and not fear. There are real risks in being a disciple of Jesus Christ, but there is no real danger. Your path is secure, your glad destination fixed … even if it leads through death. My confidence is not in the path, but in the One who has promised to walk it with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
 
 


Waterfalls Revisited

 

Last week I wrote about my hike to the Lost Waterfalls in Boquete. One thing that kept me going on that hike were the thousands of footprints; evidence that many had successfully completed the trek before me (reference Hebrews 12:1-3).  

Another thing that kept me going was … not knowing upfront how strenuous the trip would be. The path was full of drastic, arduous ups and downs, punctuated with level paths easily traversed. You couldn’t see every obstacle at the same time. Bends in the path and the lush undergrowth combined to keep you blissfully ignorant. You were forced to evaluate and take on each hurdle as it came.

To give you an idea just how challenging this hike was, let me share the statistics from my wife’s fitness tracking watch. Our adventure   

– Took about 4 hours, 2.8 hours of which were considered “aerobic activity”

– Included 11,560 steps, 1,366 of which were counted as “extreme”

– Was equivalent to climbing 86 floors (only counting steps up … not down)

Let’s look at this differently. You ask a tour guide what there is to see in New York City. He eloquently holds forth about the stunning vistas from the lower observation deck of the Empire State Building. Before you can leave for West 34th Street, he grabs you and asks, “You want to know the best way to experience the view?” “Well, of course,” you answer. “Don’t take the elevator, he blurts out enthusiastically, “Walk the 86 floors!” “And,” he adds, “be sure to sign up for the Thursday tour when they pour mud down the steps to make it more fun!” How many sane people would sign up for that? Yet, according to Sue’s watch, that’s what we did. Not knowing up front the strenuousness of the journey allowed us to finish … because it allowed us to start. Not knowing what was around every turn allowed us to move on. Taking obstacles one by one kept us from being overwhelmed.

Think about following Christ. The fictitious future you worry about immobilizes you enough. Can you imagine what would happen if you could witness every future obstacle and pain in one moment? You would never finish … because you would not begin. Our God is beneficent and wise in not revealing our future but rather calling us to trust in Him. We should obey our Savior’s kind command, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 I can almost hear my Father saying, “Take one hill at a time my child … I know where your path ends.” These truths are well expressed in one of my favorite hymns,

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
 
 


1,000 Footprints

Rocks slick with moss and clay formed the stairs that welcomed our initial assent. These gave way to a mountain meadow of flowers, sweeping vistas and breezes. The path climbed a short hill and diverged, presenting us with two options, neither of which looked easy. This is when I first questioned the brochure that labeled the hike to the Lost Waterfalls, “Moderate.”

Our chosen path plunged into the misty green mountain canopy. Rapidly the elevation rose, and the path became a staircase of tall steps among the jagged rocks and twisted roots of the forest. Ascending or descending, muscles, balance and flexibility seemed stretched to the limit. Handholds were few and precarious. At the point of my first exhaustion, we reached an incline so steep that knotted ropes hung next to the trail. I guess “moderate” is a highly subjective term. Then, I watched my friend Jim make the climb. He is ten years my senior and his ability to grapple up the slope engaged one of the most dominant muscles in the male physic. It’s known as the Anterior Ihcdisci or “If he can do it, so can I.”

My second wave of exhaustion came after viewing two beautiful falls. The suggested hike route takes you past Fall #1 to falls two and three. The route organizers were wise in this plan. The path down to the Fall One is steep and treacherous. It’s the closest to the trail head but going there first would weed out weaker hikers. When you arrive there last, you are trail proven. Having mastered the hike to that point you would be much more likely to size up the challenge and think … “I can do this.” Still, I wasn’t so sure I could. My left knee was aching, and an ingrown toenail was making it feel like I had a razor blade in my shoe. There was one reoccurring thought that carried me through … “1,000 footprints.” The muddy path, up and down, was a living record of all the people that made the trek before me. Deep, heavy footed prints, small light treads, imprints flanked by the aid of walking sticks told me that people of all shapes, sizes and abilities had endured and conquered. So did I … and that last spectacular vista was worth all the pain.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1–3

Keep following Jesus my friend … that last view will be worth it all!

 
 


Learning to Rest

Twenty years ago … I was exhausted. Two bulging disks made standing and walking a painful, almost unmanageable chore. The same malady caused my sleep to be sporadic and fitful. The pain relievers that gave me some relief added to my drowsiness. I was carrying a heavy workload during the week, teaching Sunday School at one church, jumping in my car and driving to another to preach. I was just beat. Every time I sat down … even at my office desk … I fell asleep.

I don’t know how many times I woke up from prayer. I would sit down and begin to pray and quickly pass out. Waking chagrined, I would wonder how many people had passed my office door and caught me napping. I also felt embarrassed that I had fallen asleep in the middle of my audience with the King. “Dear Heavenly Fath … zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Then I noticed something. I was waking up refreshed. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I can’t describe how it came to me, but I suddenly knew God wasn’t bothered by me resting in His presence. In fact, the need for physical rest was part of how He created me. That inescapable need for bodily rest pointed to a deeper need, a deeper reality. I started learning the lesson of rest.

Here are four Psalms that point to what exhaustion taught me … 

  • I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. 4:8
  • He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 91:1
  • He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 121:3-4
  • In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for He grants sleep to those He loves. 127:2

You can only stay awake and in charge for so long before your body shuts you down and puts you in the helpless state of slumber. The psalmists consistently connected human rest with spiritual dependence. Basically, I can go to sleep … because God doesn’t.

I’ve acknowledged that there are physical conditions that can rob us of rest. I’m certainly not advocating laziness. Important deadlines sometimes still require diligent wakefulness. Prayer also deserved focus … I shake off the drowsiness, get up and walk, because talking out my problems with my Heavenly Father is the only thing that will bring true rest. But when I need a nap, I pray, “You’ve got this Father” and I take a nap. When its time to sleep, I say, “I can’t anymore … but You can, and You will” and I go to sleep.

One of the command/promises of Jesus goes like this … “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 Did He mean it? Are His words trustworthy or not? Why don’t you sleep on that 😊