The Guidebook to St. John

by DanWolgemuth on May 5, 2023

It was May, 2003 when Mary and I last visited the remarkable island of St. John, the smallest of three islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We were celebrating our Silver wedding anniversary with our three kids.

Since then we’ve talked often about returning, and this year, in celebration of our 45th wedding anniversary, we’ve decided to make it happen. This time with our three kids, and their spouses. We’re leaning on other grandparents to cover our eleven grands! Thank you Jones’, Emery’s, and Horst’s!

As we have prepared for this return trip we’ve read lots of material about the island. We’ve interrogated Instagram photos. We’ve read tourist blogs. And we’ve written locals for their input and insight.

When we board a plane on Tuesday, we will know a great deal about the island. All of which is important as we plan, and prepare, and anticipate.

But a travel guide, or website can’t do what an afternoon on the beach can do. Instagram pictures aren’t the same as a snorkel, mask and flippers in the pristine waters of the Atlantic. The best blog sites can’t bring the smells and sounds of the island to life.

Discovering the truth about the island is important. In fact, vital at certain levels, but these facts primarily serve to inform and enhance the reality of being there. And so we read, we prepare, we listen… for the real thing. For the personal encounter. 

Alister McGrath, a Christian Theologian, writes this… “reading a guidebook is no substitute for visiting that country”. He continues, “Only experiencing the country at first hand brings the guidebook to life. The guidebook is there to make your experience of that country as wonderful as possible, by explaining all that you need to know.”

According to McGrath, the Bible provides a wonderful opportunity for understanding the objective part of a relationship with God. It is our guidebook. The guidebook informs our relationship with God, but doesn’t replace the need for it.

Years ago, evangelist L. Stanley Jones engaged in a relationship with Mahatma Gandhi about the nature and relevance of Christianity. At one point Gandhi wrote to Jones and expressed the fact that he was impressed by the moral teaching of Christ. To which Jones replied: “You have found the principles, yet missed the person.”

You’ve read the guidebook, explored the website, watched the Instagram reels… but missed the holiday on the island.

The Bible. God’s Word to His creation… is His invitation to join Him for a lifetime. In relationship. Knowledge that informs our love. Truth that anchors our trust.

Sand between your toes. The bright warmth of the sun on your face. Vivid colors. Vibrant smells. St. John. Knowledge that informs experience.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, MSG)

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