Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Conflict stinks. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, and far too easy to do poorly. Conflict is a delicate game balancing a desire to achieve a certain outcome without causing unnecessary escalation.
We live in a world where evil is alive and well. No one wants evil to exist, but it does because of sin. Both good and bad people sometimes do evil things. Those people should be held accountable and justice meted. Our country has had a consistent pattern of civil unrest after an injustice. We no longer know how to have healthy conflict.
Every single person on the planet is guilty. Every single person on the planet is hopeless without God. Every person on the planet would die lost if not for Jesus and the forgiveness He offers. Not one person is perfect.
We must face the fact that the only way to have true stability, love, acceptance, and goodness is to go through God. Only when we look to an objective standard – one that cannot change simply because man’s threshold of tolerance has – will we have peace.
“Happy are the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9).
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!
Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.
Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.
We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).
Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.
The story is told about a man hanging from the end of a rope at the bottom of a well. His feet hadn’t touched the ground and he estimated that he still had about 100 more feet to go.
With no way out, and his grip starting to fail, he figured he was in the last few moments of his life. Finally he couldn’t hold on any longer and fell…6 inches to the ground.
Just like the man in the well, we all have those times when we get worried and stressed for no reason. Because this man couldn’t see the bottom of the well, he was worried.
How often are we like this? We can’t see the future, we don’t know what’s underneath us and so we do what feels natural and worry. Sometimes we let the things that we can’t control worry us and God has told us to trust Him.
Jesus in His sermon on the mount addresses this problem of worry. In Matthew 6:25-27 He tells us that God cares for our wellbeing.
Jesus said to “look at the birds of the air that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns.” Now I hope that we feel more important than birds, because we are.
Christ didn’t suffer on the cross for birds, He did that for us. Birds aren’t given the promise of eternity, But we are.
And yet, we still worry.
The man in the well thought that it was 100 feet to the bottom of the well, but that was what he thought.
Lucky for us we don’t have to “think” or guess what life holds or if we will have food and clothing. The things we get anxious about are foretold to us in scripture.
Those that aren’t Christians are worried about death, but we KNOW what happens after we die. Those that aren’t Christian’s are anxious about so much. And that all goes away if we are in Christ. Fear of the unknown is transformed into trust.
So, even though it may seem like we are hanging on the verge of death in life, don’t be anxious. I encourage all of us to let go, and let God.
We may think that there’s a 100 foot drop beneath us, but in reality God is right below us, waiting for us to let go and trust in Him.
Some phrases in the Bible are simple to read, but very difficult to comprehend. In this article, I’d like to walk through a process together in an attempt to make sense of a difficult phrase (thanks, Paul). One of those is in Ephesians 1.23: “…the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is a description of Jesus, specifically as it relates to His being the head of the church. But what does that phrase mean?
I will not pretend to have the answer, but I would like to make a couple of suggestions. Firstly, “fullness” appears to describe the church. In my limited knowledge of Greek, it seems to be grammatically tied to “body.” The church – His body – is His fullness. Both are nominative, both are the subject of the sentence.
Secondly, Jesus fills all in all. It’s that last phrase that’s so hard for me to comprehend. What does it mean, that “He fills all in all?” Based on the fact that some form of “fullness” is used three times in a single phrase, it appears to have reference to his nature. He is not confined by time or space and is present everywhere.
If the church is His fullness (the word is possessive in Greek), and He is omnipresent (or, creation is full of Him), then the church must be extremely important. Again, I am not a scholar, I may be mistaken.
I would, though, like to attempt to make application from this difficult phrase. If the church is, ideally, representative of the very nature of Christ, are we living up to it? Is our passion for the lost like His was/is? Is our love for each other as strong as His is for the church? Do we treat the church as if it were the body of Christ (because it is)? Do we keep in mind, as we interact with each other, that we all answer to Him? Are we trying to mold culture to His image, or are we being molded to culture?
We really have to think about this one to try to make sense of it. Comprehending this phrase is anything but easy (at least for me!). But the church – which is one distinct unit, not a series of denominations – is supposed to represent Jesus. Our values, our demeanor, our goals, our mission, our attitudes, our behavior, and our purpose should scream to others, “We are not of this world.” If these do not, we are not representing Jesus. No one will do this perfectly, but the standard is high.
When we begin to understand this phrase a little more, it shifts from being hard to understand to being hard to hear. We have a huge responsibility, but we also have a global family to support us. The standard is high, but our Head is also our Savior. As things slowly go back to normal, let’s keep this in mind! We’re not just Christians to be good people, we’re Christians to show the world who Jesus is.
Here’s a quick recap of the bizarre events that unfold in Acts 20:
Each word that was written in Scripture was penned under God’s guidance— for our guidance. This means that even those accounts that might initially strike us as pointless are, in truth, spiritually-pointed.
With this is in mind, let’s briefly examine three life lessons from Eutychus that deliver relevant reminders for the 21st-century Christian.
Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too.
Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place.
None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:
But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.
The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship!
Thanks to an autoimmune disease, I had an organ within my body constantly described as “friable” when I had cancer screening. Used in a medical context, friable means the tissue was easily irritated, making it more prone to inflammation. Perhaps you can deduce from the word “inflammation” its origin from a word denoting flames. Indeed, the Latin root for “inflame” is inflammare or “into flame.” Hence, a description of my organ’s tissue as something having the appearance of being burned with fire! Even now, I combat inflammation. In some respects, then, I am a man burning from within.
Obviously, that’s not good. I’ve sought to proactively do things to quell this inflammation within. I cut out sugar and reduced my carbohydrate intake. I’ve tried to keep myself stress-free. I have avoided the types of pollutants reported to cause inflammation. Even so, I’m still a man burning on the inside. As it turns out, sometimes current medical science just cannot figure out, in certain cases, why inflammation occurs.
This truth has caused some to look to unlikely places for the answers. For example, I’ve known some who looked to questionable sources of wisdom, such as the stars. One new-age acquaintance announced to me my problem stemmed from self-denial. Evidently, I’m not true to my fiery Moon sign but obey the urgings of my watery Sun sign. In other words, I quell my spirit.
Obviously, that’s not true. Firstly, self-denial is essential to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ (Luke 9.23). We give God’s Kingdom and Righteousness primacy in our lives (Matthew 6.33). Being “true to myself” would mean giving in to my lusts and becoming a friend of the world (1 John 2.15-17).
Secondly, as Cassius told Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.” In other words, Cassius was telling Brutus that the stars destined nothing. All they needed to do was to decide not to follow Caesar. Through their strength of will, they could overcome him. Whether or not someone says the stars say this or not, that’s not why the inflammation within burns.
Recently, though, I stumbled across something of interest that you might find beneficial as well. It’s possible for shame to cause inflammation since it causes the body to release cytokines. 1 Researchers at UCLA detected these cytokines in a blood test after the subjects related a shameful experience. 2 Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. maintains a difference exists between guilt and shame in that the former relates to others while shame relates to self. 3 In other words, with guilt, you recognize you’ve done wrong, perhaps injuring another. With shame, though, you feel distressed because you’re conscious of what you’ve done.
Shame is what Father Adam and Mother Eve felt when the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil opened their eyes. Yes, they recognized their guilt, but shame led them to hide from God, something impossible to do. Despite its negative implication, however, shame can elicit the godly sorrow Paul states leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7.10-12).
Now, I’m not saying that if you burn from within as I do, that you’re needing to repent of some sin causing you shame. However, I do want you to realize that when you try to live with the shame of sin, you do more harm to yourself than you realize. Most importantly, you jeopardize your soul. Consequently, though, you may set yourself on fire within and sicken yourself by doing nothing to properly rid yourself of the shame that should help repentance.
I close with the words of John: “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” (1 John 2.28 NASB).