Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
The Crane Fly is a misidentified and misunderstood creature. It looks like an enormous mosquito, so some will kill it for that reason. I often hear, “Don’t kill those, they eat mosquitos.” The crane fly is either killed for being a “mosquito” or protected based on misinformation about its eating habits. They do not have the anatomy to be predatory, according to Dr. Matthew Bertone with the NCSU Dept. of Entomology. They cannot bite humans, but they also can’t eat other mosquitos.
Some Christian liberties are like crane flies. We may understand that they are harmless in and of themselves (I Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14.14), but we also understand that others may perceive them as being something they aren’t. To some, our Christian liberties are a mosquito: they see certain practices, lifestyles, clothing choices, consumptions, etc. as being sinful. Still others may see our Christian liberties as being hearty approval of some worldly behaviors, mistaking our enjoyment of this life (I Timothy 4.4) with godless living.
There is a middle ground. Flaunting our religious liberties is counterproductive and sinful (I Corinthians 8). Just because something is a gray area does not mean we should force other Christians to view it in black or white (Romans 14). On the other hand, it is every bit as wrong to condemn a Christian for enjoying a Christian liberty as it is to flaunt that liberty. Paul said, in the context of Christian liberties, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14.4).
So, what is that middle ground? There are, of course, the biblical principles of selflessness, courtesy, deference, discretion, confidence in our position on the matter (Romans 14.5, 20-23), etc. More often than not, though, we’re encouraged to simply avoid any Christian liberties because they may hurt others’ feelings. The middle ground is that we have a faith that is, “our own conviction before God. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14.22).
Some liberties need not be flaunted but may still be enjoyed privately, if we can demonstrate to ourselves and to God that they do not violate His commands in any way. Some liberties should be kept private so as to avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble (Rom. 14.21). That word for stumble is proskopto, which means, “to strike against something, or to make contact with something in a bruising or violent manner” (BDAG). If what we’re practicing is offensive to others because we’ve made it far more obvious than it should be, we’ve messed up. If we’re doing our best to be discrete and courteous in practicing Christian liberties (which are gifts from God), we’re on the right track.
The best crane flies are the ones we can’t see. No one thinks a mosquito is in the room, and no one thinks a “skeeter-eater” is in the room, either. We can avoid a whole lot of heartburn, headache, and even potential sinning when we keep our Christian liberties private. Or, we could play it safe and, “Not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Whichever path we take, we can never go wrong with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).
There is so much debate out there as to what Heaven will actually be like. Some make the argument that we just can’t know for sure. We know that there will be no tears in Heaven, so since that is the case there will definitely be some meatloaf there. Because in a place where there is no meatloaf present, I would cry. Now with that out of the way, let’s look at three quick promises about Heaven.
First there is the promise of “relationship.” In Revelation 21:3 it says, “He will dwell among us…” Not just any relationship, an actual relationship with Jesus Christ.
The second promise is that of “Relief.” In the very next verse it says, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” How many of us can’t wait for that day?
Now the third promise is one that is pulled from a verse that many people do not like to read. In Revelation 21:8 we see that there is a promise of “refuge.” You see, Heaven is going to be so great because of who will not be there. After we get a glimpse of what is promised to those who love Him (James 1:12), we see what is promised to those that don’t. Yet even here we see a blessing. Heaven is going to be place that is absent of, “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” Heaven is going to be a place filled with family. The faithful Church family.
I’m going to Heaven! It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live right and follow Christ no matter what. You have the ability to say it confidently and you should never have to wonder if you’re going to Heaven. It’s a promise! Take hold of that promise, because it’s the only thing that matters.
Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion.
Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith.
Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,
Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux).
I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:
Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff).
May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:
Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?
Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.
For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.
I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.
When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.
Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”
I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.
Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?
A woman in Woodbridge, Virginia, saw a rarity in her front yard: a two-headed copperhead snake. The snake only has one heart and one set of lungs, but each head has its own brain. This produces multiple problems. Both heads want to eat, and since eating takes time the snake is vulnerable to predators for twice as long. Second, each snake wants to go its own way. That means they can’t respond very quickly when under attack. Even getting water can be precarious, as one head can drag the other down when drinking. An expert at the Wildlife Center of Virginia said, “Based on the anatomy, it would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant” (Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post, 9/24/18). Experts also say that these internal conflicts prevent these rare “dual-cephalic” creatures from living very long.
James tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:7) and implies that double-mindedness reflects impurity of heart (4:8). The first instance of the word relates trusting God or doubting in times of trials, and the second relates to following a spiritual leader, whether the devil and the world or God. It is hard to run with the devil and walk with God. So often, there’s the temptation to try to do both. But, this conflict is so basic and so contradictory that it will contribute to our spiritual death. It makes us vulnerable to attack.
What this requires is decisiveness. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mat. 6:24). We must choose who we will listen to (Josh. 24:15). Otherwise, we will remain in peril and we will ultimately, spiritually die. Paul put it this way, that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The struggle is real, but the problem must be overcome. We must strive to be singleminded in our dedication and devotion. That means we can’t live for the world and the Lord. It is an either/or proposition. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Let’s make the right choice and simplify everything. Let’s honor one head and make it the right one (cf. Eph. 1:22).
Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”
Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).
We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.
Gunnar Garfors is the youngest “hobby traveler” to have visited every country in the world. He’s written a book about it, entitled 198: How I Ran Out Of Countries. I have not read the book, but his website offers a very interesting article on The 25 Least Visited Countries in the Whole Wide World. Guess which one is least visited. He tells us, statistically, it is Nauru, a Pacific island country with no capital and no armed forces. It is 8.1 square miles in size, having only 10,000 inhabitants. They have the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes and the highest obesity rate in the world (97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese). It has no seaport and no daily news publications. Perhaps some or all of these factors lead this country to be most frequently avoided by travelers, but somebody has to own that distinction (read more here: Independent UK, BBC, and Gunnar Garfors). Perhaps none of these facts inspire you to work to help Nauru lose its notorious tourism distinction.
Robert Frost wrote his famous poem about the two roads which diverged in a yellow wood. He took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference. It appears he may have actually stood before such a fork, but he used the experience to speak metaphorically. We can all appreciate this figurative choice. We must choose a path in life, and the one we choose does make all the difference!
Jesus uses such a metaphor to describe the way of life we choose on this earth. He says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14). In this familiar passage, He gives us multiple reasons why we should take His way.
Jesus compares our brief time on this earth with a road trip. We are not fated to stay on the broad way, but we are not unconditionally guaranteed a spot on the narrow road. As Frost surveyed the two paths and made his choice, so must we. Jesus says we make this decision daily (cf. Lk. 9:23). And our choices determine which path we are traveling. Be deliberate and prepared for this arduous journey that terminates all too quickly. The right choice is the one less taken and most avoided, but take it anyway!
Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.
The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.
If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation. There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.
It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.
But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!