Shallows and Deeps

October 20, 2018

“Shallows and Deeps”

Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, all of Scripture is alive with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“In the divine Scriptures there are shallows and there are deeps. Shallows where the lamb may wade and Deeps where the elephant may swim.” – John Owen (17th century English minister)

I ran across this wonderful quote while reading The Jesus Revolution by Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn. The book is an account of the movement of the Holy Spirit in America during the 1960’s and 70’s.

Sandy and I both became Jesus followers during that revival. For her, Christ filled a spiritual void that troubled her since the age of fourteen. For me, the fearful loneliness that drove me to trust no one was swept away in a flood of God’s love.

When Jesus rescued us, we found that He could do what years of decent respectable Methodism could not do. He redeemed us, re-created us and gave us Life. For both of us, our encounters with the Lord changed everything.

One immediate change was my view of the bible. Ever since I could remember, a big family bible had adorned the coffee table of our living room. When I completed Confirmation class at age 12, I was given a bible of my own. When I joined the Navy seven years later, Uncle Sam dropped a small New Testament in my sea bag.

For me, all of those items remained unexamined. The bible to me was a divine icon; a symbol for belief in God. I had never ventured past the stories I had learned as a child in Sunday school.

But after coming to faith in Christ, I felt a great hunger to know more about him. I was still in the Navy, and had kept that little New Testament. I devoured it. I absorbed it like water into a dry sponge. No one told me I had to. I didn’t see it as a religious requirement. I saw it as a relational treasure.

It was a King James translation, confusing and strange to me. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t express it like this at the time, but I was excited to have the words of life about the Word of Life! I wasn’t reading to study Christianity. I wanted to know more about Christ; who He is; what He had done; what He promised; and what He expected of me.

The bible is an ocean of Jesus’ truth and love. Maybe that’s why I am drawn to Owens’ reflection. In the Scripture, like the ocean, there are shallows and depths, but the whole of scripture reveals the gospel of the Kingdom. It’s all about Jesus.

As a teen I loved to fish the bays of coastal Texas.  Wearing waders and towing a live bait well, I’d shuffle out onto the flats. Schools of tiny fish darted about. Cownose Rays glided silently past, the tips of their brown fins just breaking the surface. Fields of sea grass waved with the tide, concealing masses of tiny shrimp and other aquatic life.

Pierced by shimmering light, the shallows are breathtakingly beautiful. Warmed by the sun, they are rich with abundant life. Just so, the scriptures overflow with the promises of God for living. The shallows rise and ebb with steady tides of grace, peace, joy and blessings.

Ocean depths hold beauty and mystery. While deployed on an aircraft carrier I would sometimes go out on deck, stand at the rail and spend moments staring into the fathomless blue, contemplating the vastness below. There was so much more than I could see! Similarly, the deeps of scripture raise doxologies to the surface of the soul.  I cannot peer into the deep things of a holy God and not feel compelled to fall to my knees in reverent awe.

Let me encourage you. Read the bible for yourself. Concerning his followers, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through the truth. Your Word is truth”. Concerning himself, Jesus said, “I am…the truth…” Concerning the Spirit, Jesus promised; “He will guide you into all truth”. And concerning the scriptures, he said, “These speak about me…”

Sandy and I read through the Bible every year. And we continually discover that all of scripture is alive with the gospel. All the shallows are alive. All the deeps are alive. And in them all, the Spirit of God speaks of and honors the Son. Wade in.



1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Acts 8:26-35

2 Timothy 3:16

Let it Play

Let it play3

“Let It Play”

No matter what it brings, life is designed to be lived by faith in God. Keep living.

One night in July 2008 I had finished up visiting wounded Marines at Bagram Airfield Hospital Afghanistan and headed to the USO facility, about a 10 minute walk away. Every so often the USO would fly in celebrities to boost morale. I hoped to catch a few seconds with NFL quarterback Drew Brees and get an autograph for my brother.

I reached the USO shed just as they were closing the line. I was the last guy allowed in the door. The young soldier ahead of me made a beeline to the smiling slip of a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader (go figure), clearing the path for me to the New Orleans Saints QB.

Shaking his hand as he welcomed me I asked “Is your mother Mina Akins? His eyes widened with understandable surprise. I continued. “I went to high school with her.”

Immediately he exclaimed, “G-P Wildcats!” “Yes! I answered. “And your grandfather taught one of my math classes.” Ray Akins was head coach at Gregory-Portland High and a well known figure in Texas High School football.

Suddenly we were like old friends, talking family, not celebrity. Mina was bright, smart and pretty. She was a member of the cheerleading squad. I remember her happy attitude. She didn’t look down on lowerclassmen like me. And Drew’s grandfather was a tough former Marine; a veteran of Korea. I can still feel his raw emotion in the war stories he told on those days in class when he decided character building was more important than compound fractions.

“My brother loved living in Texas and going to school there.” I said. “Would you to sign an autograph for him?” I wasn’t kidding. My brother still bleeds Wildcat red and blue. He was the one who told me about Mina being Drew’s mother, a fact I hadn’t known.

So it came to pass that in July 2008 at a place 9 and one half time zones from Texas, I walked away with an autographed photo (now enshrined at my brother’s) of Drew Brees with “Go GP Wildcats!” penned in Sharpie.

And just over a year after my encounter with her son, Mina Ruth Akins Brees committed suicide by drug overdose. I lost a classmate. Ray lost a daughter. Drew lost his mom.

As a Navy Chaplain I taught suicide awareness/prevention classes to Marines for 3 years. I researched the findings of a ten-year study by the Centers for Disease Control. And the thread which links almost all suicides is this; people who attempt to kill themselves do so when they are convinced of both the complete hopelessness of their plight and utter helplessness to change it. The pain of living is too great. They’re not willing to let it life play out any more.

No one is immune from encountering this vise-like grip of darkness. Christians know it. I have known it. Our faith identifies its source. Evil lies to us. Sin traps us. Death stalks and kills us.

But that same faith identifies and provides the hope and help we need. God created us to live by trusting him. Christ redeemed us from sin and death. Evil continues to lie, but the Spirit keeps telling us the truth. And so we keep living. We can choose to let it play.

Those who know him say Drew Brees has a genuine faith. Years ago he is reported to have said in an interview; “I live for God, for the faith I have in Him and knowing the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross for me…and all I have to do is just give it my best, commit the rest to him and everything else is taken care of…” Amen to that.

On February 7, 2010 the Saints upset the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Drew was the MVP. And on Monday October 8, 2018 Drew Brees threw a 62 yard touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins and set the NFL all-time record for career passing yardage. I wish Mina had been there to rejoice with him.

As painful as life can get, please, please keep living. Keep breathing. Let it play out. As agonizing as the despair may become, please endure. Let your pain play into God’s hands. Invite him into it. Include him in it. An unseen but certain hope is ahead.

When despair overwhelms, this counsel seems like such thin and insipid gruel, but I have been there. I have felt that pain and pressure. And by God’s grace somehow I let it play. And I’m here. I’m alive. There’s hope. There’s help. Please, let it play.



Be Still and Love

white wicker padded bench
Photo by Brett Sayles on

“Be Still and Love”

Caring observation creates opportunities for acts of love.

1986 was in the middle of the so-called Decade of Greed. Stockbrokers grew rich. Corporations shed their loyalty to employees. A Motorola “brick” mobile phone would set you back almost $4000. American sedans were boxy gas guzzlers. And I was a freshly minted Deacon (now called probationary Elder) in the United Methodist Church.

And I jogged. I really hated jogging but took it up to get in shape for active duty in the Navy Chaplain Corps the next year. In the meantime, I was busy learning ministry as Associate Pastor of First UMC in Eustis Florida.

Every morning that I laced up and stretched out, I hoped I would get to see church members George and Wilma Burdick. My route took me past their little beige bungalow where they would sit on the front porch drinking coffee. I love coffee. I hate jogging. It was perfect. I could stop running, drink coffee and be pastoral all at the same time.

On those occasions they would always invite me up (old Methodist parishioners are universally kind to young Methodist preachers). I would abandon the pavement -pounding, amble up the sidewalk past the name “Burdick’s” carved in script on a rustic ash gray wooden sign (the post tilted slightly from a brush with the lawn mower) and take a seat in a spare rocker.

From this wonderfully gracious pair of septuagenarians I discovered the value of being still, knowing God and loving your neighbor. During my mornings in that rocker I looked out upon a bare vista of small houses, sod and asphalt. That was about all I could see. But from their countless mornings on the porch, the Burdick’s beheld a vast, detailed and nuanced world of need to which they felt called to care and serve.

About 7:30am there went Mrs. C. She stops at the four way at Haselton and East Washington and continues straight through. Her purse is perched on the roof of her station wagon. I chuckle. Wilma notes that she normally turns right. Perhaps she’s headed toward the doctor’s office. Maybe it’s her appointment about the cancer diagnosis. Later, she will call Mrs. C. Now I wish I hadn’t chuckled.

Sometime later a school bus approached from the direction of Eustis High. Full stop at the corner but heavy on the gas taking off, and in first gear a school bus is pretty quick. George peered at the cab window of the big yellow dragster and told the tale. New driver running late. Prayers for him.

They had done this for years and years; ever since they planted themselves on that corner in Eustis. Every morning; coffee, caring perception, prayer and action plans. I was astounded at how much knowledge this couple had accrued about their neighbors and neighborhood.

There is a sea of difference between a nosy neighbor and an observant, caring one. The Burdick’s had honed the spiritual art of being still, knowing God and loving their neighbors.

For stargazers, time plus observation multiplied by years cultivates the world of astronomy. For the Burdick’s, the same formula produced the discipline of effective love. And let’s face it. We all need looking after.

Someone once told me about the proverbial “two kinds of people”; those who sat on fences and watched cars go by and those who sat in cars and watched fenceposts go by. I have always been the guy in the car. I thought I could learn more. I thought I could do more. But that beautiful old couple taught me that we can learn and do just as much from sitting on the fence. Maybe more.



Romans 10:9-10

Entering the Blogosphere …Mike offers reasons why a blog

EnterBubbles from a Deeper World7121c471-9e5c-4a27-8084-9a25d54769c2So here I am jumping into to the blogosphere, which is a real word in Webster’s Dictionary but probably shouldn’t be. Sensing my need for a job (someone once said that men are better at being men when they are carrying a load) Sandy my beautiful wife created a space for me on the internet and has been nudging me ever since to start writing. While she has been nudging I have been trying to figure out what to write and more importantly, why. Why should I do this and what’s the point of it?

Well, I’m going to write first because I believe in continuing to pursue my calling to preach. The proclamation of the Gospel never has too many platforms. And I’m going to write to help myself in my personal journey of faith. And I hope anyone who reads my offerings will benefit. Spurgeon once said “many a pilgrim has dug a well for himself, but has proved quite as useful to others.” I hope that will prove true for you.

Last but not least I’m writing for my family. So many retiredpeople I know feel the need to write a book or publish a memoir. For better or worse, I feel it too. And I’ve heard so many children (me included) express a longing to have something from loved ones now gone which they can read or listen to for posterity. One of the empty places in me yearns to be fed with more about my dad who died in 1999. I’m afraid that place will not be satisfied.

So whether or not the world needs another web log, I do. And if you decide to give my articles a read, I hope you will find them worthwhile.

By now a few of you have read my first article (“Bubbles from a Deeper World”) and weighed in on it. Thanks for your encouragement! More to come.

Blessings – Mike

Luke 18:9-14

Bubbles from a Deeper World

3A8D12C1-906F-4DB2-A471-FE3E924B67CAIn his 2013 book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” Rolf Dobelli says that (news media) items “are bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world.” If so, a profound one popped from the lips of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference August 6, 2018 following a deadly weekend of shootings in the city that left at least 12 killed and 66 wounded. 

“There is a shortage of values about what is right and wrong”, he said, clearly frustrated over a public all too willing to hold the city accountable while holding themselves unwilling to offer helpful information to police.

The mayor spoke as if those values are self-evident to all. Perhaps in times past we might have assumed so. But the meaning and force of right/wrong as categories of moral behavior lost their clarity long ago.

So as news outlets continue to foam up the daily body count around the nation, I believe it’s worth thinking seriously about the source of that little bubble about which the former Mayor of Chicago spoke.

What about the deeper world from which it rose? What is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation?

I’m not trying to point a finger. I’m just attempting to think seriously about the mix of ideas, moods and mindsets which increasingly erupt in fatal violence and release those media-bubbles that emerge and pop on the surface of our viewing screens again and again and again.

Obviously elements like the pandemic, social media, mental/emotional health, handguns and environmental stress are all involved. But what other, less obvious elements are part of this deadly, deeper world?

For example, I wonder about the role of Postmodern thought. One of the features of postmodernism is a disbelief of the “meta-narrative”. This philosophy doubts the real existence of any connected totality. There is no one worldview in which all things properly fit. Instead, the real world is better seen in terms of small stories or local narratives which do not have to connect. And as such, they cannot be truly evaluated or accurately assessed from the outside since, according to postmodern thought, language itself is a compromised form of communication. So people are grouped into tribes whose histories can be incommensurate and whose values are incommunicable. In short, if I belong to one tribe and you to another, it’s futile to even understand each other, much less agree on moral standards to which we can both agree and submit.

And I wonder about the influence of Secularism; specifically the crowding out of a real, transcendent hope by the urgencies of the Now. Contemporary spirituality is becoming a less corporate, more private refuge. Visions of a Paradise as held by the religious are figments of their imaginations. Prayer as a corporate response to crisis is seen as useless, even offensive. A present, powerful and material force of change is required. Secularism says that the tools for forging a better world are anthro- ideological hammers, blowtorches and stopwatches because time is short and this present age is the only workspace there is.

And finally I think about the divorce of morals from education. This idea has institutional roots going back at least 60 years. It was once referred to as “ values free” education and continues along many vectors, such as the efforts of some universities to meet academic requirements without imposing moral views. You can know enough to get an A in ethics class yet never learn or feel the need to behave ethically. The big lesson learned is that cleverness trumps character. Every time.

2021 saw the biggest rise of deadly road rage incidents ever. Since the Columbine High School incident in 1999, mass shootings have increased steadily in frequency. A week hardly goes by without a new report of some disproportionate and lethal response sparked by the most trivial offense.

So, what is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation? As I said, I’m not trying to pin the blame on any particular thing. That being said, I cannot believe that we are being helped by post-modern thinking that moves us more into an isolating tribalism, a growing sense that this present world is all there is, and a spreading personal conviction that doing what’s right for its own sake is for losers who just aren’t smart enough.

If indeed, the constant rise of lethal violence in today’s news are like Dobelli says, “bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world”, then can we change the chemistry of the abyss that is creating the bubbles? I hope so. Because, like most of us, I don’t want the evening news to be the herald of my demise. Or yours either.