Still Waters

You’ve probably noticed that for the most part, I default to The Message when selecting a Bible translation for my devotionals. I read several translations before I select one, looking for the one that is the most readable and easiest to understand. That often brings me to The Message. Eugene Peterson spent years with his ear pressed to the dialect of today as he transcribed the ancient words of yesterday. It always seems to speak directly into a situation. I was sad when I learned of his passing just over a year ago. I resonate with his lifelong desire to make the scriptures accessible to everyone. On a daily basis.

As much as I adore The Message, the one place where I steer away from it is the Psalms. Call me old school, but there is nothing that satisfies my need for rhythmic poetry better than the King James Version or the New King James Version. With the New King James Version, the fluidity is maintained while all the eths are dropped and the thees and thines are changed to you and yours. Thus “He leadeth me beside still waters” becomes “he leads me beside still waters,” and “For thou art with me” becomes “for you are with me.” Same rhythm, updated words.

Hey, imagine if there was a New King James New Jersey Version! The thees and thines would be youze and youze guyz. But I digress.

I took a run in my neighborhood a few weeks ago and ended up at the marina that overlooks the sound. It was one of those mornings where the water was impossibly still. I could see the reflection of the sun mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface. Naturally, I thought of Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 (New King James)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, 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.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23 is a song about God’s steadfast protection in our lives. It sings about God’s promise to lead us in righteous paths. It reminds us that he accompanies us on every journey…even into death. We learn that he sits beside us when we face our enemies.

And he leads us to the still waters.

I think this is a reminder today that if you find yourself in turbulent waters, God did not bring you there. Thankfully, he is IN the storm with you, but he doesn’t lead you into tsunamis. No, we do a pretty good job of finding our way into rough seas all by ourselves. God’s desire is to lead you out of your mess and into the still waters, where peace is found.

Ask yourself this: in the chaos of your situation, in the disruption of your circumstance, were you following God, or did you get there on your own? Is he trying to lead you out of a destructive habit, a dangerous lifestyle, or a demoralizing relationship into a better place?

Look around. God will lead you out. Have faith and be courageous. If you follow where he leads, he will restore your soul in green pastures, beside the still waters. You just have to get up and walk.

Still Waters in Colington Harbour

Judging Covers

Living on a canal affords us magnificent views of the sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and the neighbors’ back yards. Think “Rear Window,” the iconic Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly thriller. In that movie, Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after an injury, and spends hours watching his neighbors from his apartment’s rear window. He witnesses what he realizes is the murder of one of them, and the disposal of her remains by her guilty husband. If you have never seen this movie, find it today if you enjoy Hitchcock mysteries. Or just to watch Grace Kelly, who is nothing less than ethereal in this film.

But here in Colington, I have only observed the mundane things of water living; neighbors and their kids swimming off their docks, people enjoying the sunshine on their decks, a lot of waterfowl, lots of fishing, and early morning crabbers going out in their boats to check their traps. On Wednesdays I see sailboats circling in the harbor for the weekly community sail out to the sound. One time I watched an aggressive osprey fight with a large eel that kept slipping out of its talons. The osprey almost dropped it on my head as it victoriously flew over my deck back to its nest to feed the family. That surely would have caused me to list my house immediately, views or no views.

The fronts of our houses face the water, so when you travel along the streets of Colington, you are actually looking at the rather plain backs of houses. I remember taking my Mom on a boat ride on the canals and she exclaimed, “Oh, the houses are so pretty! I never realized I’ve been looking at the back of the houses all this time!” Indeed, the fancy decks and staircases, the covered porches, and the tiki bars that people have constructed all face the water. It’s like the houses have turned their backs on the street in order to face the prettier view themselves.

There is a saying that comes to mind: Never judge a book by its cover. This is just a reminder to us to look deeper and don’t make assumptions about books, houses, and especially people.

There was a time when a man named Samuel was sent to select the next king of Israel. When he looked at the fine young men standing before him, all of them Jesse’s sons, he naturally selected the biggest and most handsome one, but God said no. He continued down the line, and each time God rejected the obvious selection:

1 Samuel 16:7 New International Version (NIV)

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Finally, the smallest son was called from the field where he had been tending sheep. This one, the runt of the litter, was the one whom God chose. His name was David, and he became one of Israel’s greatest kings.

The Lord looks at the heart. People focus on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks inward.

What can we glean from this today? Is there someone in your life who needs and deserves a deeper look? Are you guilty of making snap judgements about people you meet, based solely on their appearance? Where is God calling you to take a second look, and this time to look at the heart?

I met an elderly lady once in the lobby of a very fine restaurant. We were surrounded by all sorts of people, nationalities, and ages. The younger ones were tattooed, as most younger ones are today. Within the first three minutes of meeting this woman, she expressed outrage at all the girls and their tattoos. I live on the Outer Banks and don’t even SEE tattoos on people anymore. It’s wearable art. Everybody has at least one. This lady was dressed to the nines, but would have been highly offended if someone had criticized her choice of scarves and fake pearls. She would have wanted people to see the real her. So do the tattooed girls.

Take a look around you. The down-and-out person might be just the one Christ is calling you to befriend. The uppity church lady wearing too much perfume might be shielding a life of loneliness and heartache. The frantic, hassled guy at the gas pump might have just been told his wife is dying of cancer. The rude teenager might be having suicidal thoughts.

Look deeper. Ignore the wrapper. Be like Jesus and look into the HEART. What is on the outside is just window dressing, but what is inside is a real human, deserving of your kindness and consideration. That tattooed girl just might be royalty under all that ink. After all, she is the daughter of the King.

This tattoo is on the arm of a girl with a heart of gold.