Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Life has dramatically changed for us on a daily basis. Whether it be liberties that have been restricted or routines that have been disrupted, we have experienced significant upheaval. Some of it has been dramatically better, as for many we have been given a slower pace that has produced much more time with family and projects done together that we will always treasure. There is vast potential for much better marriage and family habits to come from this experience, as well as a reshuffling of priorities on the other side of this quarantine.
Of course, for many this will be remembered as a season of trial. We are hearing of members of the church who have contracted and even died with this deadly virus. Church families around the nation have members who are part of the at least ten percent of those who have lost their jobs or been laid off. How many parents, grandparents, and other loved ones are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and residences where we cannot have physical contact with them for their safety’s sake? As devastating as anything, though, is the dreadful disruption to “church life” because we cannot assemble together for church services, fellowship activities, devotionals, seminars and workshops, and the like. There will be permanent, far-reaching impacts physically, economically, and socially, but what about spiritually?
Guard Against Social Disconnection
For the time being, we are more or less forced into social distancing. Hopefully, this can be modified soon and ultimately return to pre-virus levels. It will be important to return to the physical dimension of contact with each other provided uniquely through our assemblies. My prayer is that we will treasure fellowship like never before. We will zealously obey the command to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds through our assemblies (Heb. 10:24-25), being “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10) between our scheduled services (Acts 2:46). Don’t let the devil use this to form a permanent social wedge between you and the church.
Guard Against Stress And Anxiety
There are no psychological studies to measure the effects of mass isolation and sheltering in place on a scale like this has caused. No doubt, the more functional and stable the home environment and the more emotional support available to a person, the better he or she will fare. How many cut off from their normal routines are also constantly feeding themselves a steady diet of the news, which none can rightly classify as edifying? Conspiracy theories aside, there are the stressors like the ones mentioned above. Fears can eclipse faith and worry can lead to weakness. This trial is an excellent opportunity to build trust (Psa. 37:3-6), endurance (Jas. 1:3), righteousness (Heb. 12:11), hope (Job 13:15), and more.
Guard Against Spiritual Doldrums And Self-Absorption
This has tested our time management skills. Having more time on our hands does not automatically translate into “making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). Will we have done more binge-watching or Bible reading through this? Will we have tended more to self-care or finding ways to serve (phone calls, texts, emails, cards, etc., to spiritual family and others we might influence and encourage)? Will we have focused more on how this has impacted us or how we can impact others?
The good news is that, for all of us, this is a story whose last chapters have not been written. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual growth and improvement. None of us would have wished something like this to happen, but each of us chooses what we will make of it. Let’s remain vigilant. Certainly, Satan would like to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11), and he could use our current circumstances to dislodge us from faithfulness. Yet, Scripture promises something that we can count on: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8a). May that be the end result for us all!
I rarely watch television. I find most programming today unimaginative (e.g. reboots) and fraught with immorality. When I do watch something, it’s likely a sporting event, home improvement show, or vintage sitcom. As I was catching a few minutes of a classic sitcom, my dad remarked that one of the actresses on screen died from cancer during the run of the show. Curious, I looked up information about the show on the internet. In so doing, I encountered a curious expression: “rural purge.”
In 1970, American broadcasters, particularly CBS, put the ax to lighthearted, rural-themed and folksy shows then airing on TV in favor of more socially progressive urban and suburban-set shows. Pat Buttram, the actor who played the role of “Mr. Haney” on Green Acres, is quoted by Ken Berry as saying of the rural purge “It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it.” 1 Ken Berry thought that CBS was tired of being teased as the “Country Broadcasting System” since they perceived themselves as the “Tiffany Network” because of their vaunted news division. 2 It had been the executive in charge of programming at CBS who was tired of the shows and canceled them despite their good Nielsen ratings. The absence of family-friendly fare did not go unnoticed by the public, including even politicians like President Nixon. 3
The “rural purge” suggests several Biblical points to me. First, it demonstrates an unfortunate characteristic of fallen human nature that the proven (and wholesome) is often dumped for something else simply because of its “novelty.” God noted this was likewise true in Jeremiah’s day. When He advised them to take the established path, they refused (Jeremiah 6.16). They preferred their new, idolatrous way.
Second, it shows us why leadership matters. Paul warned the coming apostasy would begin with the elders (Acts 20.29-30.) I am mindful of congregations about which I’ve read in some of our brotherhood publications where the Biblical pattern was changed after the elders “reconsidered an issue prayerfully.” The sheep who know that their shepherds are leading them astray are left with a dilemma. Despite nothing being wrong previously, changes were foisted upon them by the leadership. Their family is changed. What will they do?
Lastly, it shows the importance of perseverance.
As the “rural purge” continued, there arose an anomaly. To placate the aforementioned public complaints, CBS reluctantly greenlighted a Christmas special based on a story by Earl Hamner, Jr. They purposely pitted it against popular shows on other networks they felt would crush their program! It didn’t. It was such a hit that CBS had no choice but to develop it into a new series that would run for 9 seasons. The Waltons. Because people refused to give up and give in to whims of the programing executive at CBS, a renaissance of family-friendly programs on all networks began.
Sometimes we feel as if our efforts are wasted, especially when it comes to our sinful culture. However, we are told that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. So, we are exhorted to remain steadfast (1 Corinthians 15.58). God ensures that His Word doesn’t return void and gives increase when faithfully spoken (Isaiah 55.11; 1 Corinthians 3.5-7). Therefore, let us stand and let our voices be heard, even if we find ourselves amid a “Christian purge.”
1 “Television Academy Interviews.” Television Academy Interviews, Television Academy, 22 Feb. 2019, interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/ken-berry?clip=60761#highlight-clips.
3 “Rural Purge.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_purge.
Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a liar,
David was an adulterer and to murder he did conspire,
Gideon and Timothy were timid, Peter a confirmed denier,
Paul wrecked havoc on the church, so full of hate and ire.
God, from time immemorial, has used the earthen vessel,
Sons of thunder or deceivers– like Jacob, who an angel did wrestle.
Just like Abraham and Isaac, very human if chosen and special
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, who with flaws their faith did nestle
From cover to cover, Scripture shows that God works through sinners
Preachers, prophets, kings and elders, saints and great soul-winners
It helps us who would serve today, to be better enders than beginners
To not let sin defeat us, to go from offenders to God defenders
Perhaps you have a sinful past or there’s guilt here in your today
A habit, sin, or weakness, crimes of deeds, thoughts, or what you say
Look back to men and women of old, they willed for they knew The Way
Conquer through Christ your old man, get busy, trust in God and obey!
Here is my estimation of Peyton Manning’s few seasons in Denver so far: “Football fans frenetic for a famous flinger fawned over his fabulous finesse. A few festive, favorable football seasons fashioned full fondness for this fabled figure. Following his foot foibles and flawed, flat functioning, fickle followers flung their festering frustration field-ward, filling the field with foulness. Finally, this furtive footballer fell from fame, fun, and fondness from these fanatics. Forsooth, feelings fade, flag, and falter in fast fashion.” That’s probably not completely fair, but it was a fun foray for me. Somebody stop me!
I will say this about human tendency—we are quick to crown our heroes and often quicker to dethrone them. Janet Jackson captured the collective psyche of humanity with her song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” No one is safe or immune from the clutches of people’s capricious whims.
No one has ever been treated in greater fair-weathered fashion than Jesus Christ. On Sunday, He entered the city of Jerusalem to a welcome from a multitude of people crying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mat. 21:9). The whole city was “moved” by Him (Mat. 21:10). By Friday, the multitudes were crying and crying louder, “Let Him be crucified!” (Mat. 27:22,24). Same Man. Same city. Certainly some of the same people. Polar opposite sentiment in just five days time. Their excited plea changed from crown Him to kill Him. Adoration was overrun by anger. How baffling!
Looking back, we can be filled with such indignation. Yet, when we look at our own lives, does our estimation of Jesus change with the events we endure in life? How do we feel toward Him in good times? Desperate times? When we struggle? When we are afraid? When we’re disappointed or betrayed? When we fail? When we’re lonely or loved? Some live life on a spiritual roller coaster, vacillating between devotion and denial. The slightest trigger can change our tune from “How I love You!” to “How could You?!”
Faithful endurance must be our rudder. We can develop the mindset of the beleaguered Job, who cried, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). How it must please God to see steady, unwavering devotion from His saints, determined to stick with Him through thick and thin. Let’s be grateful that He does that for us! “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).
When Jesus met Peter, it may have seemed like an ordinary day to the Galilean fisherman. Simon Peter and his partners had just spent a long night fishing with no results. You can imagine they were irritated and frustrated, maybe even feeling sorry for themselves. Then, Jesus commandeered Simon’s boat and used it to teach. This presumably would have been Peter’s first impression of Christ, though we do not know how closely he was paying attention to the Lord. In Luke 5:4, Jesus stops preaching to the crowd and addresses Peter. He says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus has ulterior motives, but the command is for Peter to literally cast his nets to try to make a literal catch of fish. Immediately, though, Peter is exposed to something far greater than anything earthly or material. Notice how this account illustrates the call of scripture in which Christ tells us, like Peter to launch out into the deep in faith to do great things for Him.
Launch out into the deep…even if, despite great effort, you have failed in the past (Luke 5:5). Simon explained that he and his associates had struck out overnight. Jesus was telling him not to worry about the past. He tells us the same things today. If you have failed in trying to do right or have succeeded in doing wrong, don’t give up hope. Launch out again!
Launch out into the deep…at the prompting of God’s Word (Luke 5:5). Simon was willing. What a great character trait. He tells Jesus, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” Simon says, “I value and respect your word enough to try again where I failed in the past.” Do we trust God’s promises and revere God’s commands enough to keep trying and biting off big things for the Lord?
Launch out into the deep…and involve others with you (Luke 5:7). Of course, with the Lord’s help, Simon became a success. In fact, the disciple knew immediately that he was not big enough to tackle his opportunities alone. He got his partners involved. In the Lord’s church today, each of us as Christians are partners and associates together with Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-6:1). Launching out into the deep requires involving as many as possible, for the task is so great and too much for one alone.
Launch out into the deep…and astonishing things can happen (Luke 5:9-11). First, the catch of fish is astonishing to them. Then, Jesus’ commissioning of them is astonishing (to turn from fish to men). Finally, their response is astonishing. They get to land, leave their boats and all they have, and follow Jesus. Eventually, they change the entire world! Launch out into the deep. Who knows what you can do through Christ (cf. Phil. 4:13), but it will be astonishingly amazing.
Obviously, this was about men and not about fish. Jesus was not interested in making them rich fishermen in Galilee. He was looking to enrich the people of Galilee and far beyond through these fishermen. All it took was for some men who believed in God’s power to launch out into the deep.
Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become? Barnabas did (Acts 4:36). He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.
First, take them where they are. Jesus did. Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful. We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.
Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities. There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless. It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).
If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!
On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket. It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris. If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program. Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.
When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement. James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction. The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.
To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church. It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.
Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting. It is no longer sin and self, but God. What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”
If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it. This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles. Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison. Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background. It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.
The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online). The New Testament uses the word twice. Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25). The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV). The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption. One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.
One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it. Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption. To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved. To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background. Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!
I was more than a little amused to read one of the latest offerings at the offbeat online food site “Munchies” (munchies.vice.com). While it seems to be having fun with the overkill-reporting of all movements millennial, they give hard data to support the idea that those in the age range of 18-34 are forsaking fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants in deference to convenience stores with their nachos, taquitos and slurpies. This data is being interpreted as a reflection on their tendency to impulse buy or be lured in by novelty.
Having at least two children who would fit the broad definition of “millennials,” I am always trying to figure out how this demographic ticks. It seems that every news story featuring them, as a generation, casts them as fickle, rebellious, self-serving, or disconnected from the rest of society. While they have inherited some broken systems (educationally, economically, religiously, etc.) and, as such, may naturally feel some distrust and disdain for those responsible, stereotypes and broad brushes are usually faulty.
When I view Christian millennials, having spoken with a great many of them over the past few years, I see a group intent on doing great things for Christ. They don’t want to hear plans for helping the poor and needy; they want to organize and supply manpower for doing it. They want more than Bible classes and sermons on soul-winning; they want to see their “role models” doing it and involving them in it. They don’t want to simply accept our word for it on why we do what we do in worship and doctrine; they want well-thought-out explanations and demonstrations of book, chapter, and verse.
Today’s millennials are on the frontline of a battlefield more daunting than any living generation before them. The prince of this world has attempted to brainwash and indoctrinate them with his lies. The institutions of our culture actively seek to redefine right and wrong for them.
So many of the Christian millennials I know are eager to serve as soldiers in the Lord’s Army. They may disparage some of the “established” forms not founded upon the Rock, but the kind of faith they are developing and must grow will be anything but “convenient.” They may have to pay a higher price for holding onto their faith than any of us did at their age. May we have the wisdom and take the time to mentor, encourage, love, and assist them in influencing a world so rapidly changing. They can do it, and we must help. God certainly will (cf. Rom. 8:37-39)!