My friend Russ Josephs splits his time between Maine (summer) and Florida (winter), an enviable lifestyle for those drawn to warmth and water. Up north, he and his wife, Nancy, have a rustic cottage on China Lake. Down south they have a small condo across the street from the ocean in New Smyrna Beach.
Russ was my grade school gym teacher, and outside of my mother and father, easily one of the most influential people in my life. You might think that’s an odd thing to say about your physical education instructor – but that’s because you’ve never met Russ Josephs.
As the temperatures fall and the leaves turn in Maine, Russ and Nancy are preparing to shut down their cottage. But the other evening Russ wandered down to the lake’s edge. Here’s what he posted on Facebook, along with the above picture:
From light to dark the sunset rolls on. Amazing the beauty that surrounds us if we’re willing to sit on the beach and watch!
Russ is a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and the kind of person who gives thanks to God for everything, sunsets included. He recognizes that life is fragile. Like everyone else, he’s endured his share of sorrows – but he’s found the secret to contentment:
He’s never let go of the awe, beauty, wonder and amazement when it comes to his faith and the world.
The headlines confirm the fragility and temporal nature of all things, of course. But the hype and the hate can wear on us. It’s always been the case. Noise makes news. But as believers, even the worst news doesn’t have to paralyze us.
It seems to me there is a correlation between our ability to manage the world and our ability to acknowledge its wonders and Christ’s supremacy and sovereignty.
Charles H. Gabriel was already a prolific hymn writer in 1905 when he penned the words and tune to “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” – a popular congregational song still sung in many churches today. He went on to write between 7,000 and 8,000 pieces of music, but his works represented a shift at the time from deeply theological and even sober-minded themes to hymns that were fun to sing. You’re likely familiar with the lyrics:
He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone.
O how marvelous! O how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
Gabriel’s classic recalls another beloved work, “And Can it Be,” which was written by Charles Wesley almost two-hundred years earlier, and whose refrain reflects a similar sense of astonishment:
Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, My God, should die for me!
Wesley was in the home of a friend in 1738 when he heard the gentlemen’s sister call out (likely in her sleep), “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities.” Wesley got up, opened his Bible, and read from Psalm 40:3: “He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” He was immediately convicted. Though familiar and friendly to the Christian faith, Wesley had not, up till that point, made a formal profession – which he did then and there. He began to write the now famous hymn as an expression of his appreciation and amazement.
Complacency comes too easily for many of us, especially as people and experiences become more familiar. But the dynamic nature of God and His overwhelming gift of eternal life to us demands that we resist the urge to grow accustomed to the mystery and wonder of the Christian faith.
It’s the happy believer who “stands amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned unclean.”