Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

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The Long, Gone Golden Age of Christianity

I grew up listening to 97.1.  At the time it was called Fox 97 and it played nothing but oldies.  For several years, it was one of the more popular radio stations in the Atlanta market.

Fox 97 is how I found out about Elvis Presley, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys.  Whenever my mom drove me somewhere in her 1970ish Chevy Nova with wood panels I would get a lesson in rock and roll history.  For her, it was more of a reminder.  I guess that you could say that we both grew up on the exact same music.  I called it oldies but I don’t know that she ever used that term.

Several years later I was at a pizza restaurant with high school students from my youth ministry.  During our meal, a song from Journey came on.  One of the kids at our table got real excited and started to sing along.  I was shocked.

“How do you know this song?  It came out a decade before you were born.”

Her response crushed me.

“Oh, I love oldies.”

I was only about 25 but I had never felt so old.

Fox 97 eventually went away.  Now it’s called 97.1 The River and it plays classic rock.  Whenever I drive my kids places, we listen to 97.1 and they get introduced to Led Zepplin, Def Lepard and the Allman Brothers.  For me, it’s more of a reminder.  A reminder of my childhood.  And a reminder of how old I am.  Now the music I grew up listening to, even the music I listened to in college, could be considered oldies.  But I don’t use that term.

A lot of people look at Christianity like an old radio station.  It had its day and ran its course.  Now it’s time for another religion or worldview to take center stage.  It’s easy to think this way after last week’s events.  After all, if Christianity is so great then why are people getting killed with bombs on the streets of Boston?  If Jesus is still Lord, why are dozens of people getting killed in fertilizer plant explosions?

Some within the Church hope for the return of the long, gone golden age of Christianity when it was possible to at least pretend that the president was an evangelical.  They miss the days when the movement had its swagger and evangelicals were considered a voting bloc to be reckoned with.  If only we could get our power back, then things in this country would turn around, they reason.

But power, at least as it relates to the kingdom of Christ, has a way of looking different than you might expect.

The early Church didn’t look very powerful when one of their new leaders, Stephen, was staring down an angry mob.  But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God with Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand (Acts 7:54-56).

The power of the Holy Spirit sustains us in our weakest moments.

Things weren’t looking good for the body of Christ when that same angry mob started throwing rocks at Stephen’s head.  One after another until, finally, Stephen died.  But during his execution, Stephen was acting just like his Savior (Acts 7:57-60).

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

This sounds almost exactly like the words that Jesus spoke during his crucifixion.

The power of the cross helps us to live and die like our Savior.

I’m sure that most cultural observers in that day thought that Christianity was done as a man named Saul carried believers from their home and threw them in prison.  And it looked even worse when the remaining believers scattered, leaving only the apostles in Jerusalem.

But consider where these believers scattered to.  Judea and Samaria.  Just like Jesus said that they would in Acts 1:8.  And as they scattered, what were these believers doing?

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Acts 8:4 (ESV)

God’s sovereign power has a way of redeeming even the worst of circumstances.

Throughout the Scriptures and the rest of human history, we tend to see God’s power on display when his people are at their weakest.  Jesus doesn’t need the president’s ear or a really big voting bloc to accomplish his purposes.  In fact, those things have a way of becoming obstacles that prevent us from really knowing God’s power.

So the Church hasn’t lost any power.  That’s never a concern because nothing can separate us from the love of God.  But the real issue is whether or not we are willing to rely on God’s power.

Even if it means living without the facade of man’s power.