From time to time, I take a “Photo Safari.” I connect these together with music to make a relaxing, 3-minute video, so turn up the music, sit back, and relax!
It was a chilly spring day as Jan and I were hiking in the woods not far from our home in Connecticut. Then we saw it: a blue and black snake in the middle of the trail. It was so cold; the cold-blooded snake was barely moving. Jan stooped down. “Can I touch it?” I wasn’t sure. I had never seen a snake precisely like this one. The diamond head looked like a poisonous rattler, but it had round eyes. The dangerous snakes I had seen had “squinty” eyes. I took my camera out and snapped several pictures; then, I moved close to try for a dramatic close-up. Jan reached out and touched its tail. That’s when I knew it wasn’t a friendly garden snake. As fast as lightning, it struck my lens, and Jan jumped so high the neighboring airport picked her up on radar. Here is my list of the top five snakes in the Bible.
5 – Brood of Vipers (Matthew chapters 3 and 23)
The fifth snake in our top five list isn’t a snake at all. It’s worse! John the Baptist and Jesus shared the same message in their preaching: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” They also loathed hypocrites whom they both called “You brood of vipers.”
4 – The Snake in the Parable (Matthew 7:10)
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” A rock can resemble a biscuit (please, no comments about my baking!), and both fish and snakes have scales. The point Jesus is making is, God is a good Father and gives us good things. The Lord isn’t the source of the bad things in our lives!
3 – The Snake that Bit the Apostle (Acts 28:4)
A poisonous viper latches onto Paul’s hand as he makes a fire for the survivors of a shipwreck (Acts 28:4). Everyone expects him to die, but they have a new respect for him when he doesn’t. “The trouble for biblical interpreters today is, there are no poisonous snakes on Malta. So where did this snake come from, and how did the Maltese know the viper was deadly? According to The Times of Malta (February 19, 2014), the Islanders have several explanations.
One is that Paul’s preaching caused all the venomous creatures on the island to lose their venom. Another theory is the snake was the Leopard snake, Zamenis situla, which is venomous in southern Europe but not on Malta.” A third theory is the poisonous vipers on Malta have since gone extinct. The best explanation is, “The notorious horned viper, Vipera ammodytes is deadly and inhabits southern Europe and Turkey. It has been known to hitch a ride on ships and is an excellent swimmer, or it could have ridden one of the planks from Paul’s ship to shore. The islanders, who often traded with the mainland, would have instantly recognized the viper by its horns and reacted as Luke recorded in Acts.”
2 – Nehustan: The Bronze Serpent
The people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died (Numbers 21:4 – 6).
As a cure, the Lord had Moses make a bronze serpent and lift it up. When people were bitten, they could look to the serpent and be healed. Centuries later, that bronze serpent became an idol and had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).
1 – The Serpent in the Garden
Without a doubt, the most famous serpent of all deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3). It was the devil incarnate.
Our blue snake turned out to be an Eastern Diamond Back, but my advice is still the same. Give serpents – especially talking snakes – a wide berth!
Last weekend Jan “kidnapped” me away to Julian, California (and not just because apple is my favorite kind of pie). We had a wonderful time, ate too much and enjoyed bird watching. Julian is a bird watcher’s paradise, and we were richly rewarded.
It was time to come home on Monday, but rather than follow the direct path back through Ramona or even the scenic route through Alpine, we decided to head home via Temecula. It was a beautiful day for a drive. The road took us through Warner Springs and to the little airport. The runway was lined with sailplanes (gliders).
The memories came flooding back as we pulled over and watched. When I obeyed the Gospel at age 14, my friends were completely underwhelmed. “Christians are boring,” was the general sentiment. “You can’t do anything. You can’t have any fun.” Their logic bothered me. First, I never understood how making foolish choices like getting stoned in an old van after the football game could be classified as “fun,” and second, I was sure they had never met the Jesus I knew. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Of course, there are Christians who are playing the “waiting game.” They endure this life with firm resolution while they wait for joy in heaven to come. Likewise, I know Christians who are trying to convince themselves that being miserable is, in fact, fun, and they are actively trying to spread their miserable Gospel to everyone. On the other hand, I see the true Gospel as liberating. I genuinely believe this is my Father’s world, and I want to satiate myself with Life. I want to be truly alive. I do not believe in the spectator life any more than I believe in spectator Christianity.
So the week I obeyed the Gospel, I started on a quest. I took on two paper routes and found a job working at a local pasture/airport. On the weekends, we pinned up the cows and used the field for towing gliders and making parachute jumps. My job was to hook up the lines from the tow planes to the sailplanes and then run along, holding up the glider’s wing until it was going fast enough to balance on its one wheel. I did all this in exchange for flying lessons at the end of the day.
Later that fall, the instructor stepped out of the sailplane, and before I had time to think about it, I was bounding down the runway behind the tow plane all by myself. It was way too quiet up there without the instructor shouting at me from the backseat, but there I was, high above and watching the world spread out below.
I went on to have many other adventures — mountain-climbing, sailing, scuba diving, skiing – the list is 43 years long, and I only truly regret the year I devoted to playing golf. (Missing a putt can nearly cost you your soul!)
Jan and I watched the planes taking off and landing. Then she smiled, handed me the leather flying jacket she bought me for Christmas, and I found myself strapped into the front seat of a Schweizer 2-32 (the same type of sailplane I soloed in more than four decades before). Left, right, then left again, we were wagging the rudder to signal the tow plane we were ready to go. Before I had time to think about it, we were airborne. I was a kid again, but some things never change: this is still my Father’s world!
My dear friend Gordon Gower is a fellow-preacher and elder of the church in Arizona. We’ve known each other far longer than we care to admit, and we share a passion for adventure. Gordon is a spelunker – a cave explorer – and took me along with him to explore a commercial cavern in Texas. He was a friend of the operator and had permission to “go off the beaten path.”
I remember slithering through mud and water in a room the size of a gymnasium (but it was only 18 inches high!) In one corner, Gordon found a new passage leading off of that room. It was barely big enough to poke your head through. Spelunkers are a strange lot, and they believe if you can get your head through a hole, then surely the rest of your body can follow. Gordon wiggled out of sight. I had no choice but to follow along behind. It was a narrow, muddy, torturous passage, but we inched through it. Suddenly, we popped out behind a stalagmite in the middle of a tour group on the main trail in the beautiful, commercial part of the cavern.
I will never forget the expressions of horror on the faces of some of the sweet, well-coiffured, well-dressed ladies as two troglodytes stood up caked with ghastly mud, with only the mud saving us from total embarrassment. Our coveralls were torn into ribbons that loosely hung from our bruised bodies. The flame of Gordon’s miner’s lamp danced and hissed on top of his helmet. Then a concerned look crossed his face. He asked the tourists, “Didn’t they tell you to wear old clothes before you started the tour?” With that, we walked briskly out through the turnstile.
Gordon and I have spent many nights together under the stars climbing mountains in Colorado. We’ve hiked for miles with heavy packs, and that brings me to the focus of today’s meditation. I remember one winter while we were snowshoeing on the side of a 14,000-foot peak. I was exhausted and began coughing up blood. We needed to get back down quickly. Gordon reached over and took the heavy tent off of my pack and put it on his back. He took my load. The Bible calls that sunantilambanō (συναντιλαμβανω).
The Apostle Paul uses that word to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:26. It is most often translated as “helps” in English as in “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” but it is much more picturesque than that. Kenneth Wuest (Word Studies) says:
The word speaks of the action of a person coming to another’s aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the other person in his endeavor.
In other words, the Holy Spirit doesn’t do the work for us, completely relieving us of our duties and burdens. Instead, the Spirit lightens our load and strengthens our backs. Changing the metaphor, the Spirit is like a parent helping a child do her homework. The parent doesn’t do the homework for them but instead guides and explains the problem so the child can experience the joy of success.
God doesn’t always provide us a way out, but he will always provide us with a way through!
They say the two happiest days in the life of a sailor are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it. That might be true for some boats, but not for Santa Teresa our old, wooden sailboat. As Jack Aubrey says in Master and Commander, “There’s enough of my blood in the wood to make her a near relative!”
Jan and I have moved to Groton, Connecticut (think “Mystic Seaport” as in Mystic Pizza) to serve a delightful, little congregation with big plans, but it’s too far to bring Santa Teresa with us. It would take nearly six months to sail her through the Panama Canal and up the east coast, or it would cost over $14,000 to truck her there. Neither one is a good option, so after all these years, we had to sell her last weekend to two wonderful new caretakers. (You don’t sell wooden boats. You find someone who will love her and adopt her as we did.)
Today, I am sailing her for my last voyage across San Diego Bay from the Public Docks on Shelter Island back to her mooring ball by the Coronado Bridge. It is bittersweet. People have asked me if we plan on buying another boat. After all, we sold our first boat, a 22 foot O’day named Wanda Sue to buy Santa Teresa, but, if we do, it will take a while. The little church in Groton is going to take all our attention for now. If you’ve ever lost a treasured pet, you understand how we feel. Do you immediately replace her or do you need to grieve a bit first.
As I sit in the cockpit waiting for the last part to arrive to finish the repairs, I am looking her over and reliving some of our adventures from the last twelve years. I think about the first voyage through the Channel Islands and down to San Diego. What vivid memories! Or I treasure all the memories of people we have introduced to sailing. Some of my best memories were just tied up to the mooring ball in the bay listening to music by the light of the oil lamps and dancing with my sweet wife on our tiny ballroom floor in the galley. Yes, there were storms and ghastly mistakes, but those disappear with time and leave us wiser. I think about diving off the cabin top into icy water; climbing back up the ladder and doing it again.
I think about all the lessons God taught us on that boat: faith is leaving the sight of land and following the compass until the island appears on the horizon just as promised. Unity: each of the strands of a rope are terribly weak by themselves, but bound and intertwined, they cannot be broken. Annoying drips need to be attended to immediately before something worse happens. Trust: Be sure of your anchor! Above all there was a feeling of the presence of God as we sailed through the night, our way lit by stars as we were carried along by wind and wave.
Fair winds and following seas Santa Teresa! We will treasure you in our hearts.
Spring is officially here and to celebrate we took a lovely day-sail on Santa Teresa. Yes, the rails need to be sanded and varnished. Yes, the brightwork needs to be sanded and varnished. Yes, there are a thousand and one things to fix, replace, and adjust, but sometimes you just have to put down the brushes and tools and go sailing.
On Friday Jan and I unmoored and sailed up the bay to the docks on Shelter Island to wash Santa Teresa down, top off her batteries, water and fuel. I spent the night aboard and four friends — and a puppy — joined me for a delightfully relaxing day on the water. I don’t believe we topped 4 knots, even with all the sails set, but the sun was warm, the air fresh and the water was clear.
No, there aren’t any good sea stories to report. Nothing broke or caught fire. No sign of pirates or vicious marine life to report, just a lazy spring day with good friends and an unhurried afternoon. Life is good!
At first, I saw God as my observer,
keeping track of the things I did wrong,
so as to know whether I merited heaven
or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognized His picture when I saw it,
but I really didn’t know Him.
But later on
when I met Christ,
it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike,
and I noticed that Christ
was in back helping me pedal.
I don’t know just when it was
that He suggested we change places,
but life has not bee the same since.
When I had control,
I knew the way.
It was rather boring,
It was the shortest distance between two points.
But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts,
and through rocky places
at breakneck speeds,
it was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, “Pedal!”
I worried and was anxious
“Where are you taking me?”
He laughed and didn’t answer,
and I started to learn to trust.
I forgot my boring life
and entered into the adventure.
And when I’d say, “I’m scared,”
He’d lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts that I needed,
gifts of healing,
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
my Lord’s and mine.
And we were off again.
He said, “Gift the gifts away;
they’re extra baggage, too much weight.”
So I did,
to the people we met,
and I found that in giving I received,
and still our burden was light.
I did not trust Him,
in control of my life.
I thought He’d wreck it;
but He knows bike secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.
And I am learning to shut up
in the strangest places,
and I’m beginning to enjoy the view
and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.
And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore,
He just smiles and says … “Pedal.”
Jan and I celebrated Memorial Day with an incredibly relaxing visit, just across the border in Mexico at one of our favorite anchorages on the east side of South Coronado Island. It is always surprising to us that more boaters don’t take advantage this nearby treat. The islands are a nature preserve so it’s true that you can’t land but there is a feast for the eyes. Over sixty species of birds are reported to call the islands their home and there are several varieties of seals and sea lions. The water is incredibly clear and from the number of commercial fishing boats visiting for the day, there must be something for them to catch.
We left our mooring beside the Coronado Bridge at noon on Monday and motor-sailed out of the bay before catching a fair wind south. The seas were very calm and we made about five knots to the anchorage. We anchor on good sand bottom in thirty-six feet of water. I made a dumb mistake and let the anchor chain get away from me with the handle still attached to the windlass. Fortunately I had the good sense to stop it with my left wrist — shattering my watch and seriously bruising my arm. Fortunately the pain dropped me onto the anchor line arresting the run away chain with my rear end. Fortunately my howling sounded very much like a bull seal looking for a date which brought two harbor seals out of the water onto the rocks beside us for Jan to photograph. Then she got the first aid kit to splint my arm. We went to bed early and I got out of doing the dishes!
Tuesday was a long leisurely day filled with snacks and barbecue. I managed to reel in an amazing piece of seaweed after “fighting it” for nearly an hour. I was sure it was a record breaking halibut, but fortunately no fish were harmed during our vacation.
The anchor came up on Wednesday much easier than it went down on Monday and the winds had shifted fair for another downwind run back to San Diego.
I suppose what keeps most sailors out of Mexico is the paperwork. Yes, you need your passports. We also have our Mexican import permit, fishing licenses, our VHF marine radio station license, and our annual U.S. Customs inspection tag, but it is well worth the trouble in our estimation. We have never felt in danger, nor have we had any bad experiences in Mexico. In fact, it has always been just the opposite. Of course my arm is in a sling and I need a new watch, but the only real damage was to my pride.
Ryan Gunnells is an incredibly talented photographer. If you’ve followed my blog, Ryan took the picture of the lost bird who joined us three miles out to sea on Santa Teresa. That picture is also in my first book, Changing Tacks: Lessons I’ve Learned from an Old Wooden Boat. Ryan then created the cover picture for my second book, The Wind from the Shadows (both books are available on Amazon.com) as well as the author picture on the back of the book.
Last fall Ryan helped me take Santa Teresa for her annual inspection and a little day sail on the bay. I knew he was up to something when he disappeared up on the bow with a camera and a bunch of bungee cords. Now he presents his amazing short film, a time lapse series of pictures strung together in a really fun video.
Thanks Ryan! You are welcome aboard anytime. I’m glad to not only call you my friend, but also my brother.
Need a photographer? Check out his website: http://reveriebyg.wordpress.com
Thanks to our wonderful children, Santa Teresa was hauled out, stripped and repainted over the last ten days. She looks (and runs) better than ever! Here is the video:
Special thanks to Paul and Charlotte Bentz, John and Jennifer McKeel, Rachel and Lucy, Holly and James, and Judith Smith (along with Lincoln and Sequoia who barked their encouragement). Driscoll’s Boatyard in Mission Bay was great and the birds were amazing, but next time we paint the decks, I’m going to ask for Santa Teresa to be put in a “No Fly Zone” — (Don’t ask.)