Of Lighthouses, Watchtowers, and “Friendly” Reminders…

I live just about an hour away from one of the Great Lakes. Within a comfortable driving distance, there are at least three beautiful lighthouses along the lake. Driving to or from the lighthouses, we pass through an area known as the “Fruit Belt.” Orchards, vineyards, and croplands are bursting this time of year–the very air is redolent with the smell of ripening apples, grapes, corn, beans, berries, wheat, and more. Some of the orchards and vineyards still have old watchtowers, though many have been removed or replaced with digital cameras.

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Lighthouses and watchtowers serve a purpose– one that is still important today. Lighthouses help ships and other lake traffic avoid dangerous reefs and rocks along the shore, as well as sandbars. They guide travelers in the dark, and through storms. Watchmen in towers protect crops from dangers such as fire and predators. They watch for storms, and signs of draught and frost. Both lighthouses and watchtowers are fixed, steady, visible, and convey safety and security.

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I’ve been reading through the prophets lately– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…the prophets were sending out a warning to the rebellious people of Israel and Judah. Even though the imagery is often graphic and stark, the message was one of steady love and warning from God. God loves us enough to guide us through the rocks and perils of life. He sends warnings– not to harm us but to keep us from harm. He sends faithful friends and other messengers to stand firm with us through the storm and drought and danger around us.

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Just like the light from the lighthouse, or the sound of a foghorn, the message may be glaring and unpleasant, sometimes. We may be sailing along with no notion of the rocks ahead. Or we may be strolling through the vineyard, unaware of a prowling animal or a fire just over the next rise. We may even resent the warnings we read in the Bible or hear from friends. We may be afraid to BE the one giving out the warning– afraid of being misunderstood or resented or even rejected.

God asks us to be watchmen– to be lighthouses– ready to shout out a warning to those who may be in danger. He also asks us to be vigilant and ready to heed the warnings He sends through others.

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How do we know when “friendly” reminders and warnings are true? How can we be sure that they are not just petty criticism or overreactions?

Check them against Scripture. And check them in the context of Scripture. A single verse, taken out of context, that seems to contradict other passages should always be suspect. But a general principle, found throughout the Old and New Testaments should be heeded.

Look for consistency. Lighthouses and watchtowers don’t bend and sway with the winds of change. “Warnings” that change with circumstances, or seem relative to certain situations should be suspect.

Listen for (and speak with) Love. Friends may speak words of warning, but they will also speak of mercy and hope.

Listen for (and speak) truth–warnings should contain specifics, rather than vague fears or blanket accusations.

Listen (and speak) with humility. That doesn’t mean that we cannot speak in our defense, but we should not be defensive or resentful– even if the warnings are spurious. Remember, Jesus was accused of being “from Satan” during His own ministry, yet He answered firmly and gently, not with anger or hatred.

Give Thanks! Give thanks that God sends us warnings, and gives us opportunities to recognize danger and error, and opportunities to repent and change course, and encourage others to do the same!

The Rocks Cry Out

A couple of days ago, while the weather was still cold, but clear, my husband and I visited one of the many beaches along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan.  The beaches are popular throughout the summer months, especially those with lots of dunes and smooth sand for sunbathing and picnics and beach volleyball.  We’re the sort of odd ducks who like to visit in the off-season, bundled in parkas and combing the rocky shores looking for unique stones and beach glass.

I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the two men– one who built his house upon the rock, and the other who built his on sand.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=ESV.   Sandy beaches are wonderful to visit in the summer, when the weather is perfect, the sun is shining, and the lake is calm.  But over the winter months, people avoid sandy beaches (as we did) because the wind and waves can erode great patches of sand, moving it about and changing the shoreline considerably.  On the bigger public beaches, crews put up fences to keep the winter gales from blowing sand away from the shore and into the parking lots and streets.  The fences also trap the sand and snow on the shore.  Snow banks that form on the beach can melt and carry the sand back into the lake, forming new sand bars that can cause damage to small boats.  Even in the summer, large waves can produce undertows and dangerous currents for the unwary. 

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In many ways, sand is like sin.  Sand is attractive– smooth and glistening in the sun.  It is warm and seems to yield to the touch.  But sand shifts; it blows and drifts easily, but it sticks in place where we least want it, tiny grains getting into hair and clothes, shoes, and beach towels.  It slips away, slides from under our feet, fails to hold its shape, unless we wet it down and pack it, and then it crumbles under the action of the waves.

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Rock, on the other hand, is secure.  It takes centuries to erode; it doesn’t shift or fall away.  A rocky coast may not seem as inviting for pleasure, but it makes a far better foundation for a home or a lighthouse.  Even the smaller stones along the beach do not blow around in a strong wind, nor do they melt away with the snow.

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Beach stones can offer further illustrate how God works in our lives.  Stones on the beach start out with sharp edges.  They are cold and hard and uneven.  But over time, the rocks are slowly churned by the waves and the movement of smaller rocks and sand, and they are smoothed and polished by their environment.  Among the sharp rocks are beautiful agates and quartz, their varied colors seeming to absorb sunlight and heat.  Just so, we are transformed from hard and cold isolated individuals as we absorb the Son’s character.  And, as we are churned up against others, and the hard edges get smoothed away, His beautiful character is revealed in us, and we shine.  With further polishing, the stones reveal the kind of strength and beauty that make them worthy of being displayed or set in jewelry.  Not every rock along the beach will go through this transformation..some will remain hard and sharp; others will be ground into sand.  But some will cry out in their beauty and strength as testimonies of  God’s eternal process of redemption.

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