Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.
As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Hearing is pretty important. One of the best things about the beach is the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. How many have lost a loved one and, more than anything, just want to hear their voice again? I’ve been told that the sound of birds in the early morning is very peaceful (I wouldn’t know from experience because mornings are for crazy people). We experience and enjoy so much of the world through hearing!
We usually take precautions while doing something that could potentially damage our hearing. When using some kind of implement like a mower, chainsaw, tractor, leaf blower, etc., we might use hearing protection. If you like to go shooting, you’ll definitely use earplugs or a suppressor (if you don’t mind the paperwork) to mitigate some of the sound. If you work in an industrial environment, chances are you’ll spend most of the day with earplugs in. We take these precautions because we’d like to keep our hearing for as long as we can.
There’s a lot of noise in our world right now. People are screaming out their political viewpoints and world-views. Hatred on both sides of the political aisle is being shared with as much volume as their respective constituents can muster. Media has given us information overload and we’re very aware of everything going wrong with the world. It’s no surprise to me that so many people in our time are experiencing daily, sometimes-crippling anxiety. The noise we’re experiencing is deafening.
Our world needs a refresher course on hearing safety, so what follows is merely the essentials.
First, unnecessary exposure to noise may cause irreparable damage. The greatest hazards are social and news media as they produce the most volume. Many of us are exposing ourselves to the negativity found in these platforms at dangerous levels. Cutting way back on our exposure to these sources of division, anxiety, violence, and hatred is sure to help us avoid damage.
Second, it’s called “volume” for a reason: lots of voices are involved. We can do our part to prevent damage by simply not contributing to the decibel level. Imagine how much more peaceful our world would be if most people refrained from publicly sharing their opinions! By not contributing to the noise level, we can help ourselves and others stay spiritually and emotionally sound.
Finally, use hearing protection! It may not be a bad idea to put away any conduits to information for a while. Spend some time with friends and family, spend some time in nature, spend some time being productive around the house, spend some time in a hobby, spend some time in the Word.
If we follow these three things – avoiding or limiting exposure, not contributing to the noise level, and using hearing protection – we will find ourselves happier, healthier, more unified, stronger, more spiritual, and less anxious. For the next few weeks (months?), let’s use hearing protection and see if our outlook doesn’t improve drastically.
Proverbs 1:5; 17:4
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
Wisteria is beautiful. Despite its beauty, though, wisteria can be an invasive vine if it is not carefully cultivated, becoming genteel kudzu. As I had to go to a doctor’s appointment in Gainesville, Georgia, yesterday, I noted how much wisteria grows around that city. For the most part, it was not managed well. Thus, you would see azalea bushes or maple trees with purple flowers choking them out. However, if you take the time to train the vine, you can make a stunning addition to your garden with wisteria. One popular way of taming wisteria is having it run along an arbor creating a tunneled walkway through the blooms.
We have other things around us that act a lot like wisteria. These are things having the potential to be something helpful or enjoyable, but which end up being deleterious to our spiritual health because we do not manage them well.
Becoming distracted by doing good is one such type of spiritual wisteria. When Jesus was with his dear friends in Bethany, Martha wearied herself seeking to be an excellent hostess. She asked Jesus to rebuke her sister, Mary, for not helping her prepare. Since Mary was listening to Jesus teach, He said she was doing what was necessary (Luke 10.39-42). It is a good thing to be hospitable. We note that the need to be hospitable is one of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8). However, one’s priority is the kingdom of God (Matthew 6.33). Thus, even in having a desire to do a good thing, one may be overwhelmed and end up missing out on opportunities for spiritual growth.
Social media is another type of spiritual wisteria. During this period of social distancing, I’ve noted how many more brothers in Christ are utilizing Facebook and YouTube to put out encouraging and convicting lessons from God’s Word. Congregations are streaming “virtual worship services” for homebound people to participate in. It excites me that we might be seeing the beginnings of the “Third Great Awakening” in the United States as people realize they have ways of expressing their faith which has nothing to do with a building. Even so, I note that with people using social media even more now (if such a thing is possible) it likewise gives rise to a lot of things that ultimately detract from spiritual growth. People are also posting depressing or rancorous things. You still see lewd jokes and double entendres. We need to ensure that our use of social media at this tend helps us to serve as salt and light in this world so God can be glorified (Matthew 5.13-16).
You may have noted other types of spiritual wisteria I have not included. We want to emphasize that this “wisteria” in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is, rather, that a failure to discipline ourselves allows for this good thing to lessen its value. You must put forward the effort to properly utilize and enjoy physical and spiritual wisteria. You must do the same thing when it comes to cultivating a beautiful, spiritual garden pleasing to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27).
Inasmuch as we don’t want laws or policies enacted that violate God’s Word and we want precious freedoms, especially religious ones, preserved and protected, we can really get into what is going on in Washington, from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. Many know that “D.C.” is an abbreviation for “District of Columbia,” an area of land created at about the time of our nation’s founding under the direct jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress that is not a state.
However, as politics has vied for sports and entertainment as an idol in our culture, it has become the source of unnecessary and even immoral strife between Christians. Blind support and allegiance for one major political party or the other can do more than make us inconsistent. It can make us a stumbling block. It seems to me that D.C. can stand for some dangerously different things.
Distracted Christians. Search high and low in your New Testaments, written during the time of the wicked, often unfair-to-Christians, Roman Empire. The disciples were about the business of evangelism (Acts 8:4) and growing the church (Acts 6:7). Can the rumblings and drama from the nation’s capitol get us so transfixed that we cannot see past it or through it to our individual and collective mission as God’s people? He has us here to get people into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Everything else is secondary.
Divided Churches. For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve seen politics come between brethren in the local church. Thankfully, it does not usually become significant enough to trouble the entire congregation but I have seen it do so. What’s more, I’ve seen brothers and sisters become so confrontational and flagrant about politics–especially through the relatively recent medium of social media–that it has been a stumbling block to new and weak Christians. Perhaps the political world in our country has never been so intensely divisive as it currently is, and what typically troubles the world troubles the church. But, when souls are negatively impacted, God will hold the offenders accountable.
Devil’s Cauldron. Please don’t misunderstand. Politics, like money, is a neutral matter. But, like money, it can become the root of all sorts of evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)–enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions (Gal. 5:20). Just prior to this list of activities that are the carrying out of the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), Paul warns, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Who benefits when things like politics distract and divide Christians? It is not the lost, the church, or the Lord!
I can think of a least three godly, wonderful Christians who are public servants in political office and making a profound impact for good–Bill Reiboldt, Sheila Butt, and John DeBerry. They demonstrate that God’s people can devote themselves to politics without sacrificing their faith and example. For those of us “on the outside looking in,” in our love of country and freedom, may we never allow our attitude, words, or actions to betray our highest calling. The more effectively we reach lost souls, reflect the mind of Christ, and reveal the hope of the gospel, the better our nation (and world) will become. What will that make us? Disciples of Christ!
It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.
The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!
Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.
If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.
If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.
But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”
—“A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
—“A worthless person, a wicked man is one who…spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12,14).
—“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: …one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16,19).
—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12).
—“Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Prov. 26:26).
—“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
—“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).
—“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).
—“He who loves transgression loves strife…” (Prov. 17:19a).
—“Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).
—“An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper” (Prov. 28:25).
Suffice it to say, the Lord has not been silent on the matter. Our age is marked by the manufacturing and fanning the flames of controversy, endless argument, and divisive issues. Men seem to take pride in starting strife and stirring the pot. When we share the gospel, in gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24) and love (Eph. 4:15), it can still be met with devastating disagreement and vehement vituperation. But, thanks to mediums like social media, some among us have seized the platform to spread division where they could as easily work to promote love and unity among brethren. I cannot presume heart or motives, but the fruit has been to start brotherhood brawls and to stratify schisms. It is worrisome that while we manufacture outrage on politics, race, law enforcement, “guilt by association,” nitpicking the church, or constantly bringing up the latest “what’s wrong with the church” scenario, 151,600 people die around the world every day (via http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/)! Most of that number will have traveled the broad way that leads to destruction. Surely we can redirect our passion and conviction away from divisive diversions and do our part to stem the tide of such an eternal tragedy!
Meanwhile, we can resolve to see people, not skin color, God’s sovereignty, not party affiliation or uniform, the local church’s autonomy, not an opportunity to be a busybody, and with every other, similar scenario, not major in the minors. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness while scrupulously focusing on matters comparatively minor (Mat. 23:23). We have a brief time to use our talents and influence on this earth. Will our cause be social justice, brotherhood policing, or political activism, or will it be building up the kingdom through evangelism, edification, and benevolence? May God grant us all the wisdom to “not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Be a builder, not a basher!