Thursday Column: Captain’s Blog
It’s no news flash to observe that our culture seems hopelessly divided along political lines. That seems to impact race, gender, and other lines, too. The most tragic consequence of this is that it has not left the church unaffected. Social media is often a barometer for how emotional and passionate brethren on both sides of this divide can become when discussing some specific aspect of this. We cannot hope that social media will provide the answer. Who your friends are and what their leanings are on political issues influence what shows up on your homepage as they share politically or socially charged blogs, videos, and the like. Pundits have, for a few years, theorized and analyzed the reality of a “political social media bubble.” Barton Swaim, in an August 1 article on The Weekly Standard online, said, “more than any other social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter are avenues for the kind of acrimony that has embittered our politics and poisoned reasonable dialog” (https://www.weeklystandard.com/barton-swaim/a-political-social-media-bubble). It’s not just conservative publications making that observation. Google the term “political social media bubble” and conservative, moderate, and liberal outlets can at least agree about its existence (a trip to The Guardian, New York Times, National Review, et al finds plenty of material if written from different points of view drawing different conclusions). Too often, God’s people get drawn into this hurtful, messy arena and turn on each other like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The God of heaven must certainly weep.
This weekend, I visited the Lord’s church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a state that is often a political cauldron boiling hotter than many other places. I’m not sure how many congregations were represented, but we had to have had close to half white and half black people attending (with various Asian and Hispanic visitors there, too). Politics were mentioned a few times, but only in the sense that they have too often become a stumbling block and distraction in the Lord’s church and that they cannot solve our nation’s problems. But I was beholding the answer without it having to be pointed out. Those in attendance had a thirst for a “thus saith the Lord.” People of different colors lovingly, naturally worshipped, fellowshipped, visited, laughed with, and enjoyed each other throughout the weekend. It was genuine. It was deep. It was powerful. And it was neither contrived nor manipulated. Its glue and bond was the blood and body of God’s Son. Christ is the great uniter. As we unite on His terms and His way, we destroy barriers. That’s by design.
What Paul says to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2:14-18 can have application between black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, male and female, or however our country wants to erect barriers. Christ is our peace and can break down the barrier of any dividing wall. He helps us view each other as “fellow citizens” and “family” (2:19) who are “together” (2:21,22). When we get ahold of that, nothing can keep us apart!
USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com). Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity. Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.
In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu). Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God. All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt. In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.
Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!
Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated. We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.
On the young man’s Facebook page, he made hopeful comments. He had just graduated High School when he wrote, “Can’t wait to see what’s in store for my future.” Randomly, several weeks later, he gushed, “Some day, I’m going to travel the world.” The Colorado Mesa University student from Lakewood, Colorado, was 19 years old when he went hiking in Bangs Canyon south of Grand Junction and fell to his death on Saturday.
Obituary columns are supposed to be filled with wrinkled faces and names that sound like our grandparent’s generation. Birth dates should go way back to the early or at least mid-1900s. We’re just not conditioned to think that death can come to the young. But if we are careful Bible readers, we realize that there is no guarantee that we reach Moses’ inspired guideline for life expectancy of 70 or 80 (Psa. 90:10). We listen to James as the Holy Spirit leads him to write, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14). It does not say that the vapor floats around for a century and a half or more. We do not get to decide how high and long our vapor hangs in the air.
The fact of this uncertainty ought to cause all of us, wherever we are on the time continuum, to take the attitude James urges. He writes, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that'” (4:15). Such a statement shows submission under God, humility before God, and obligation to God. This will help us see each day as a gift from Him and should cause us to use it wisely and productively to accomplish His will. It should also prompt us not to delay following and submitting our lives to Him. Instead, it should cause us to not delay becoming a Christian, leaving a lifestyle of sin, or getting actively involved in serving Christ.
Most of us will likely reach a ripe old age. The law of averages are at play. But we do not get to choose if we do or do not. What we can choose is who we serve and when!
A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ. He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher. The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful. In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.
Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23. One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.” We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate! Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn. I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.” Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?
And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler. For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar. The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not! That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.
Remember what Paul tells the Romans. “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19). The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this. Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words. “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving. You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!
While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed. As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service. When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred. Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”
One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers. One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching. One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present. One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.
Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them. Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations. The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory. Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)? Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.
How might this impact public responses? Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”? Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”? There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.
What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start. We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic. We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever! The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37). Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.
Prefatory note: I am writing as a guilty party rather than an innocent bystander. The following words are directed inwardly at least as much as outwardly.
It is getting hard to remember what we did before we got our smartphones. How did we keep from answering everyone’s texts immediately or looking up the minutest factoids about athletes, actors, and ancient history before we let another moment pass? What did husbands and wives, other family, and friends do at dinner and other public and private places? Why did we ever engage in face to face conversations with the person in front of us when we could have been blowing them off to inbox or text a person hundreds or thousands of miles away from us? Wasn’t good manners and courtesy way overrated?
It seems like an epidemic, whether an etiquette virus or relationship dementia. Too often, we have become so absorbed with posting, tweeting, Facebooking, and like communicating with our cellular device that we have slowly started disconnecting with the real world and the moment. Last Sunday, sitting at the airport, I was amazed to see rows and rows of future passengers glued to their seats with eyes glued to their laptops and phones. The airlines have even modified their policy in recent times to allow one to never have to cut off their “handheld devices” so long as they are in airplane mode. I’m no expert, but I wonder for how many of us our tools of technology have become avenues of addiction? I have given a little thought to this, and now offer some totally unsolicited advice:
We can really help each other break this habit, and we need to do so with love and patience while realizing most of us are guilty of these things at least sometimes. Let us not let the virtual and technological worlds interfere with and even hamper our “realtime relationships.” May we all practice “hanging up” our smartphones more often!