Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
One of the more difficult passages to understand in scripture is found in II Thessalonians 2. This chapter talks about a figure known as the Man of Lawlessness. Theories abound concerning his/its identity which, thankfully, is immaterial to our salvation and will not be the focus of this article. I would prefer to focus on the apostasy (also translated “rebellion” [ESV] or “falling away” [KJV]) preceding the appearance of the man of lawlessness in our passage.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica because some false teachers, evidently posing as Paul and Sylvanus (2.2), had convinced several members that they had missed out on the second coming (2.1-3). Paul begins by telling them not to believe anything other than what he had already taught them (2.2, 5) and rehashes a proof he taught in person (2.5). Before the second coming, two things had to occur: 1. The Apostasy, 2. The Man of Lawlessness. This would not be a sign of the second coming but an event that would be obvious (2.8, 9) and of unknown duration, eventually brought to an end by the appearance of Christ (2.3, 8). Clearly this had not happened yet or it would be an irrelevant comfort or proof to the Thessalonian church.
Whoever/whatever the man of lawlessness may be, no one argues that its advent is preceded by the apostasy (2.3). The construct of the original language seems to describe this apostasy as being a major, far-reaching event rather than an isolated or regional one. Regardless of the timing of its advent (as in, has it happened or is it yet to come?), the apostasy was or is to be a tragic event.
The word is ἀποστασία which means, “Defiance of established system or authority” (BDAG 121). Keeping the context in consideration this apostasy is an event characterized by a mass “falling away” from the church. It is a tragic event. To quote a great fictional philosopher, “Today is not that day.” It is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of current events and think, “There’s no hope.”
Bear Valley Bible Institute recently released their annual report on the work being done through its mission efforts. This is just one school and one evangelistic effort among hundreds, but the church is doing great work in a world that seems to falling apart. Last year alone over 800 preachers were trained and over 3,000 people converted. Again, this is just one great effort among many. The soil is still fertile. There is still work for us to do. There is still hope. When we get overwhelmed by the political chaos in our own country or stressed about events overseas, let’s remember this: this world is not our home, and with our limited time here there is still so much good to be done!
In 1960, Otho Jones and Homer L. Sewell wrote a song made popular by Flatt and Scruggs. It’s a song written from the point of view of a man’s oldest son, a son who felt he was old enough to be on his own and leave home. He describes his father as simple and not filled with a formal education, but also as one very devout and the spiritual leader of his home. He describes himself as “young and foolish.” When I listen to this song, I think about the way I could be as a teenager and how I tried my parents’ patience. My dad, a gospel preacher since 1964, has always been a diligent praying man. While I never heard him say these words in my presence, I wonder if he ever prayed them about me in my younger days.
“Our gracious heavenly father we all gathered here today
To give the things for blessings so humble we pray
My oldest son is leaving but I’m sure he knows what’s best
But just in case would you stand by and help him stand the test
Lord he’s awful neglectful about church on Sunday morn
And if he gets with a wrong crowd would you let him hold your arm
And if he flies too high would you clip his wings
But don’t let him fall too hard, I’m sure you can handle things
I’ve tried my best from day to day to teach him right from wrong
And he’s grown to be a fine young man and he always blessed our home
We pray dear Lord for guidance that he won’t build upon the sand
But I won’t worry half as much if I know he’s in your hands
And oh yes Lord it won’t be long till I’ll be coming home
Don’t make me wait too long
We pray dear Lord for guidance please cleanse us from our sins
So we can all be together in heaven in Jesus name amen.”
Those words are neither perfectly autobiographical nor an apt description of my dad (who has much more formal education than I do). But I think a lot of parents who continue to labor over their children in prayer, concerned for their safety as they turn them loose in this world. However large the physical or financial threats may be, what should concern us most are the spiritual ones. We will never outgrow our concern for them. We should never stop being the right kind of example to them. May we never sin against them by failing to pray for them. They need us to be the type of Christians described by James, of whom he writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16).
The percentage of Americans who identify as atheists doubled from 2007 to 2014 (Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center). But that hardly tells the whole story. Our culture is drowning in a political correctness that stigmatizes Christian Values and that makes nearly any public stand or statement regarding what Scripture says about such things as homosexuality, objective truth, the sanctity of life, and creation a point of fierce contention and object of greatest scorn. A moral erosion and slippery slope has been in motion for several generations that has brought us to our current position. The Bible foresaw such decline as comes when a people turn their backs on God (cf. Prov. 14:34). In discussing the universal problem of sin, Paul points out five facts about a faithless people (Rom. 1:18-32):
Why does Paul mention these faithless ones? It is proof of divine inspiration, because although this was written 2000 years ago it perfectly describes the current culture. But, there is a more important reason for Paul to write this. This horrible condition has a remedy. The theme of Romans is contained in the four verses prior to this section. The gospel has the power to save us from this. The solution is faith. Faith saves (1:16) and it gives life (1:17). The world is being swallowed by spiritual darkness, but God’s light is brighter. We who have faith have the light. We must share it. When we do, we help people have the most important possible commodity: faith!
There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation. Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.
All of this leads me to several random observations:
There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation. Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.
Strayer University shared their video from the day they ran an ingenious experiment in New York City. They put up a chalkboard on a busy street with this caption written at the top: “Write Your Biggest Regret.” Scores of people wrote on the chalkboard. Nearly every answer visible in the video included the word “not.” Interestingly, it was not confessions of sins of commission. Instead, it was about opportunities missed, dreams not pursued, and things they failed to do.
That exercise made me wonder how many are inmates in the prison of “not.” While Strayer seemed more interested in highlighting regrets that were tied to career, that impacted quality of physical life, and the like, regret reigns in people’s hearts and has dominion over their spiritual and eternal lives, too. Scripture shows us those challenged with the gospel message who ultimately refused to follow Christ. The rich young ruler was not willing to choose Christ over his stuff (Mat. 19:22). Many of the rulers believed in Him, but they put their stock in the approval of men rather than God (John 12:42-43). Felix trembled at truth, but ultimately turned away (Acts 24:25). His cohort, Agrippa, was nearly there but not quite (Acts 26:28). Other examples can be found of those who came so far but would go no further.
How many people have been shown the way to eternal life and have acknowledged, to a point, that it is the way they should go? Yet, when push comes to shove, they refuse to leave the cell of self and confine themselves to the chains of a condemning choice. Before Christ, they will see their regrets realized in a rejection that cannot be remedied.
The incredible news is that they keys are in reach of this prison. It was a running gag in the Andy Griffith show that particularly Barney would leave the keys on the peg of the Mayberry jail where the prisoners could reach the keys and let themselves out. Would you picture our spiritual circumstances this way? The Psalmist praises God for many reasons, including the fact that “the Lord sets the prisoners free” (146:7). In a Messianic passage, Isaiah writes of His mission to “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (61:1; cf. Luke 4:18; 7:22; Mat. 11:5). He can emancipate lifelong slaves to sin (Heb. 2:15). He has left the keys where we can grab them, but we must want to be free and choose to be free.
This video ends with the participants taking an eraser and removing all the regrets from the board. One of them writes just two words in their place: “Clean slate.” What an optimistic, hopeful, empowering difference that contrasting concept is. Regret can be replaced with resolve. Do you believe that is possible for your spiritual life? Don’t you think God wants you to experience that exhilarating hope? The proof is there at Golgotha and the sepulcher that could not keep His Son entombed. What He did there can provide you with a clean slate! Take possession of the freedom He came to give you!
Strayer video link: http://aplus.com/s/83d4dc91dee
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!
What could we do as the people of God to reach out into our community with the gospel in such a way as to remove as many barriers as possible while striving to remain first-century in character and characteristics? Here are some ideas that come to my mind:
I understand that the worship assemblies in the first-century were primarily geared toward members and not visitors. Yet, thinking about these things and having such discussions are fruitful because: (1) We are blessed by visitors, often a great many of them, (2) Many of these suggestions will greatly aid new Christians, (3) We have an obligation to reach out to the young as well as the old, and many of these things are central to the world as they know it. We must remain faithful and obedient to God’s eternal truth, but we must keep discerning eyes regarding what’s truth and tradition and what cannot change and what can and often should change.
One of the more ingenious and amusing entrepreneurial moves I’ve ever heard is the company that offers to sell you a star. For a price, you can buy a star and name it for a loved one. The company will send you a gift pack along with registering the star in the name of the one you, the buyer, designate. I have never been able to figure out how that company earned the right to sell something no one will ever visit, hold, or otherwise show tangible ownership of.
When I think about some of the new, strange religious ideas along with some long held, established ones, it reminds me of the folks selling the stars. Preachers and whole denominations offer salvation on their own terms, altering and subtracting from the Lord’s established will as if salvation was theirs to offer. They urge people to pray a prayer or accept Christ in their hearts, guaranteeing them salvation by so doing. Or they tell a seeker that the Holy Spirit will irresistibly come upon them, filling them and by so doing indicate an experience of grace. Or they urge parents to sprinkle their babies, saving them from what they call inherited sin. The problem in all these scenarios is that people are offering what is not theirs to give. Christ has already established the plan that saves the lost person—hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing it (Rom. 10:10), repenting of sins (Rom. 2:4; 6:17-18), confessing Christ (Rom. 10:10), and being buried in water in order to enjoy the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).
The same things occurs with worship. People claim to stand in the place of Christ and tell others what is and is not acceptable to God. They propose changes in who can lead in worship (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12), how worship music is to be done (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and when the Lord’s Supper can be taken (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7). Some would say that dance, weightlifting, incense-burning, drama, and the like are acts of worship God will accept, though they do so without a scintilla of appeal to the New Testament.
When it comes to the will of God, He has exclusive rights over that. Christ does not share His authority with anyone (Mat. 28:18). He makes the rules and determines right and wrong. Beware of anyone who is selling anything else (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17).
With the recent discovery of kimberlite on the east coast of Antarctica around Mount Meredith in the Prince Charles Mountains, there is considerable talk that much more may lay beneath the ice and cold at the south pole. Kimberlite is a type of rock known to contain diamonds, named for Kimberly, South Africa, which lays not far to the north. It is a rare rock, and the discovery of it in Kimberly led to a 19th-century diamond rush.
Despite the promise and prospect of diamonds in Antarctica, there will not likely be an onslaught of prospectors there. There is the forbidding cold, isolation, and winter darkness, the meticulous restrictions forged by environmentalists, and how difficult it is to travel there. For now, it is an interesting discovery. Whether or not there will be diamond mining there in the future, time will tell (Alister Doyle, Reuters, 12/18/13).
Is it possible that an even bigger treasure is buried, not beneath ice or international treaties, but rather mounds of fear, indifference, and the like? Paul says “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Co. 4:7). The treasure is the message of salvation through Christ (cf. 2 Co. 4:2-6) and we are the earthen vessels. God gets this treasure to the world through us. But, far too many of us are burying this treasure like one man did in the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:25). In a similar parable in Luke, a man hides his mina in a handkerchief (19:20). In both parables, the application is the same. God does not want us to keep this treasure hidden and inaccessible.
The soul-saving message of grace should not be buried. We should not keep it in isolation, be cold or forbidding in any way. God wants every person to have access to this treasure (1 Ti. 2:4), and He is counting on us to share it!