Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations. Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with? It changes colors to blend in with its environment. From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them. Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.
Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).
We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).
Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!
The blogosphere is getting pretty rife with posts about how the church is inept in method or impure in motive on just about everything, from good works to evangelism to preaching to leadership to cultural relevance. It appears that we (the church) have a skewed perspective of the past, we are doing practically nothing now (at least nothing right), and we have a doomed future. We have no clue how to reach millennials or keep converts (not that anyone’s winning anyone). We’re losing our young people. We’re full of hypocrites. We have no vision or it’s the wrong vision. We’re at once too legalistic while too soft on sin and uncommitted in discipleship.
Do such posts draw an elevated number of hits or similar attention? Do they gratuitously spark or provoke strong emotions from readers? Do they make good tabloid journalism?
The church faces enormous challenges that require greater service, dedication, faithfulness, and sacrifice. Being full of sinners, we’re imperfect and have plenty of room for improvement. I guess my question is what the objective of this “Negative Nelly” approach is. To better motivate and encourage growth? Or is it to beat down, create guilt, or demonstrate some sort of superiority by the “pundit”? Is it a spiritual approach or does it look more like the world than we might like to admit? May we never be like the ostrich, head buried in the sand and ignorant of reality around us. Yet, as Christians, may we exemplify a joy and positivity borne of following Jesus.
Because of sin, things have always been bleak–including when He walked the earth. Yet, rather than lament a falling sky, He came to make a positive difference in this world. His followers’ writings were rich with words like “hope,” “grace,” “heaven,” “faith,” “unity,” “forgiveness,” and “peace.”
What if we made more suggestions and used less sarcasm? What if we concentrated more on our own example and less on everyone else’s errors? What if we balanced our hand-wringing about what’s wrong with the church with hand-raising about what’s right with it? What if?
I took an hour to go over to see one of the iconic figures of the south, Birmingham’s cast iron statue of “Vulcan.” Built 110 years ago for the World’s Fair in St. Louis, it is the largest cast iron statue in the world. This is a nod to the iron industry that put Birmingham, Alabama, on the map starting in the 19th century. I remember this imposing figure from when I was a little boy and our family visited this “big city.” At that time, Vulcan’s torch would shine red if there was a traffic fatality and green if a traffic accident wasn’t fatal. It was, and is, a fascinating icon and landmark.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this unique statue is the prominent place it occupies in the skyline as you approach the city from several points of origin. If you had no other clue, you would know you were in Birmingham as soon as you saw Vulcan. The city takes understandable pride in the distinctiveness he lends it.
Other cities in our nation’s history and in other nations throughout time have had landmarks that set it apart and are even synonymous with it. In Jesus’ day, Egypt had the sphinx and the pyramids, Greece had the acropolis, Italy had the Colosseum, and nearer to Palestine was Petra (in modern Jordan) and the lion of Babylon (in modern Iraq). The Romans had their iconic statues and buildings that often towered over the cities within its empire.
Jesus may have fired the imagination of the first-century disciples with His picturesque imagery, calling us a city set on a hill or a light of the world (Mat. 5:14-16). Our distinctiveness is not based on physical prominence, not our church buildings or having famous members. It centers on how well we reflect the mission and character of Christ as a congregation and as individual members of it. When people hear about the church of Christ, they should know who we are and, while they may try and say evil against us (cf. Ti. 2:8), the charge of wrongdoing should not stick. Instead, they should look at us and see a reflection of Christ. A community could have no better landmark! May we work to provide it.