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  • Ross Moughtin

Reading the beach, it can save a life.

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If this blog seems a little bumpy, it's because I'm writing this on the bus between Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise!

Brian could read the waves - or as they say in Oz, he can read the beach. Like most of the people on this Byron Express Bus, he is an experienced surfer, beginning - it would seem - as a babe in arms. And so he understands the waves.

It was fascinating standing with him on the beach at Surfers Paradise (which is a very swish city, by the way, with some awesome high buildings) as he pointed out the wave pattern and pointed out the rips, the strong currents which can easily sweep the novice out to sea. For him these rip currents were an express escalator which carry you out quickly and easily for your next surf.

For to surf safely you need to be able to read the beach. You need someone to give the basic understanding and then it's learning from experience. It's not something you can learn from a book. Such wisdom takes time. And it can save your life.

As it happened, Brian explained to me that at the very place where we were standing he had actually rescued a novice caught in a rip. This meant placing them on his board and against every instinct, going out to sea. You don't swim against a rip. There he raised his one hand to signal to a lifeguard. You don't save them yourself - you know how they may be saved.

I found all this fascinating - for all I could see were waves with their different shapes and sizes. Talking to an expert in their field is invariably a humbling experience.

Here we go, from Bryon Bay. Bump, bump. And now on the Pacific Highway, a smoother ride. I assume the other people on the bus think Jacqui and I are veteran Surfers. We are doing our best to look cool.

Jesus talked about reading the sky. "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say "It's going to rain" - and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say "It's going to be hot" and it is.

He then challenged the crowds - bump, bump - "Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it then you don't know how to interpret this present time?" (Luke 12:56).

Clearly Jesus expects his disciples (and us) to be able to read the beach, to understand what God is about in his world. And not just for our personal information but like Brian and his surfing knowledge, to make a difference, even to save lives.

And I think Jesus is not just talking about his parousia, his second coming. He is wanting his people, his church, to be able to make sense of what is happening in our world, even in our own communities and our own culture. For so many people are bewildered and disorientated, confused as the old certainties are swept away. We live in troubled and troubling times, in heavy surf.

Such understanding does not come instantly, just like that. (Why are we exiting the motorway?) Like Brian and his understanding of the waves, it is combination of being taught by teachers and learning on the job. This is how the Holy Spirit teaches us - and it takes time and some experience. (We are at the Gold Coast airport. Typing quickly while the bus is stationary).

In his letter to the Corinthian church the apostle Paul speaks of the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives as a gift (1 Corinthians 12:8) and that's where we begin, even at the cross of Jesus. We realise that God's wisdom does not come naturally, so to speak. Fundamentally it is counter to the way this world thinks. Otherwise, when caught in the equivalent of a rip current, we would be tempted to swim towards the beach.

So we need tuition, from scripture and from our fellow disciples who have been surfing this world for longer than we have. It needs careful reading and disciplined reflection. We learn to think Christianly.

However, in all this we have the promise of Jesus himself. Speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit, now available to all believers, he says. "But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13).

This promise makes all the difference because when we set our hearts to understand God's ways and what is happening in our world, we have the confidence to know that we will be able - however unlikely that may seem - to read the beach.

It may appear to be swell and surf, waves breaking with no particular pattern or rhythm - but in the same way that Brian can interpret the sea for safe surfing, by God's grace we will be able to discern God's purposes in this perplexing world, even to save those who are being sucked under.

We're nearly there. My first blog on a bus, somewhat shorter than usual. But what do you expect if I am being bounced up and down? Offline too.

All I need now is a wifi signal. Thanks to Jacqui for reading out the scripture passages from her tablet.

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