Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Life has been found in some of the most uninhabitable spots on earth. Bacterial life thrives in Lake Vostok in Antarctica, for example. Thiolava veneris was found thriving in the aftermath of a violent submarine volcanic eruption near the Canary Islands. Organisms that thrive in extreme environments are called “extremophiles” (noaa.gov). We’re always amazed when life thrives in extremely hostile environments.
The moral climate of our planet makes it extremely difficult to thrive. Humanity has created a moral environment consisting of self-interest, violence, apathy, and general dysfunction. In terms of population, they have the clear advantage. Christians are, by definition, extremophiles. We defy all expectations by thriving in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.
That said, we are studied by those who make up our environment. Many will come to the conclusion that we’re strange and warrant no further interest. Many will consider our loyalty to a supernatural morality to be hostile (II Tim. 3.12; Rom. 5.3,4). Few will wonder how we’re able to have hope, purpose, direction, resilience, and happiness in any condition.
Why would anyone want to be an extremophile? Why would anyone willingly assume a lifestyle that automatically puts them at odds with their own environment? Here’s why:
1. Everyone is going to live forever (Jn. 5.28,29). We want to live with the creator in a perfect world (II Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1,2; Rom. 8.18-25), not in an even worse world (Matt. 25; Rev. 21.8; II Thess. 1).
2. We didn’t make up the moral code we follow. Human error is not a factor in our worldview because it came from the creator (II Tim. 3; Jer. 31.31ff). This system can’t be corrupted and doesn’t take advantage of its constituents (unlike many human laws). We’re secure and confident because of this.
3. The creator went to extreme lengths to make sure we could easily have access to a perfect eternity (I Jn. 5.3; Heb. 9.11ff). Who wouldn’t want to follow a perfectly selfless leader?
4. We enjoy peace and existential purpose because our worldview isn’t from around here (I Pet. 1.1-10). It doesn’t matter what happens to us, we’re more than fine.
5. We’re not afraid of death (Heb. 2.14f). Self-preservation is not our main priority – how many people have done horrible things out of self-preservation? Lots! We don’t have a death wish, we’re just not afraid of death.
That’s just a sample of why we voluntarily become extremophiles. Done correctly, ours is the best life possible! It makes this one better, it makes the next one perfect. We can’t lose!
We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering.
Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church.
Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context):
How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God.
How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God.
Our family used to hike a lot when we lived in Colorado. There were many hikes that I went on that were straight up miserable. Ive always been the chunky kid, but the worst part about this was that I was surrounded by a healthy and very active family.. This meant that on every hike I was the one in the back feeling like I was about to pass away. Hiking was never really something I was the best at. There are several times I remember thinking, “I’m not going to make it.”
We used to hike a trail called “Moffit Tunnel” It was an 11 mile hike that ended with a summit path that gained 3000 feet of elevation in under half a mile. As you can imagine the path was practically vertical, and filled with rocks, mud, snow, and sadness.
When I think of “a hard path” this is what comes to my mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes the way to salvation as a path that isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s for the dedicated Christian that is determined to reach eternal life. There’s no denying that the Christian life can be tough. It is filled with persecution, especially for those who aren’t as fortunate to have the freedoms we enjoy in America. The Christian life is tough because we will face persecution, but we are more likely to face rejection in our society today for standing up for some very unpopular teachings. If we are devoted to teaching and standing with God’s Word this means we must defend God’s view on homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, baptism, sin, hell, and many more divisive topics. If we are devoted to walking the difficult path we must remain faithful in the rejection, hatred and persecution we will face.
But the rejection and hate from the world isn’t the only thing hard about this path.
As Christians we are commanded to put ourselves to death. Matt. 10:37-39 say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Walking the difficult path means we have put ourselves to death. In doing so we are saying we love Christ more than our parents, our children and ourselves. In order to walk the difficult path we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross we pick up is the instrument of death that we have used to crucify ourselves on. Once we have taken up our cross we have made the decision to love Christ over anyone and everyone. We no longer serve ourselves because we have died to Christ.
When we choose to walk the difficult path we are no longer living without purpose. We have a goal, a meaning for our lives. God uses us to spread His saving word to others. We have purpose in everything we do. We are here to encourage each other, to save souls, and to glorify God. One of humanity’s most asked question, “Why am I here?,”is answered by God. How we serve God will ultimately change someone else’s eternal destiny. We are given the true words of life that are able to save our most valuable possession, our souls. We also experience the blessing of having confidence in death. Death is scary. Why are so many scared of death? It’s the unknown, the end of our existence as we have known it. As Christians, when we choose to walk the difficult path, we are given the promise that when we face death we can be confident in knowing our soul is in the hands of almighty God. We know what is coming, and we can find hope in this.
In the 1970s, the people at Reece’s came up with a new candy they initially called “PBs.” They later changed their name to Reece’s Pieces. Sales were good but then dropped. As fate would have it, Universal Studios was shooting a new movie by Steven Spielberg about a stranded extra-terrestrial who wanted to go home. They were planning on using candy as the bait to lure the alien out from his hiding place. Obviously, they were going to use the popular M&M’s. However, the maker of M&M’s, Mars Incorporated, turned down the offer to have their candy featured in the film.
Since Reece’s Pieces were the same small size as M&M’s, Spielberg and company decided to use the chocolate, candy-coated peanut butter pieces instead. The Hershey Company was a little hesitant to permit the usage of their candy until the vice-president at the time, Jack Dowd, saw a few movie stills. He agreed and went in on a million-dollar joint promotion with the film. The movie, of course, was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It was a huge hit. Consequently, sales of Reece’s Piece went up 65% and surpassed sales of M&M’s for the first time in its history. One wonders what the folks at Mars Incorporated thought of their blown opportunity.
The Hebrews’ writer speaks of something much more valuable, of which others fail to see the value: The Son of God. Note Hebrews 10.29. “How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” In its context, the Hebrews’ writer is addressing apostate Christians. This lack of appreciation is not a matter of these Christians merely falling short of God’s glory (cf. Romans 3.23). The Hebrews’ writer talks about the willful disregard of the new covenant with its symptoms, such as forsaking the assemblies (Hebrews 10.25). These are people re-crucifying Jesus Christ (Hebrews 6.4-6).
I suppose that Mars Incorporated’s lack of foresight only hurt them momentarily. I could not find a direct head-to-head sales count for the two products, but Mars Incorporated made more sales revenue than Hershey’s in 2019. However, the person failing to value the blessings found in Jesus Christ through the committing of willful sin does away with the efficacy of the sacrifice made for their sins (Hebrews 10.26). Furthermore, such apostates will not enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4.1-11). Don’t be guilty of giving what is holy to dogs and pearls to swine (Matthew 7.6). Respond to the invitation of our Lord:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)
Foster, Tom. “Why Reese’s Pieces and Not M&M’s Were Featured in the Movie ‘E.T..’” TVOvermind, TVOvermind, 12 Feb. 2018,www.tvovermind.com/reeses-pieces-not-mms-featured-movie-e-t/.
Kelly, Debra. “The Untold Truth of Reese’s.” Mashed.com, Mashed, 29 Apr. 2020, www.mashed.com/205754/the-untold-truth-of-reeses/.
Troy, Eric. “Reese’s Pieces Instead of M&M’s For E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial?” Culinarylore.com, Eric Troy and CulinaryLore, 5 June 2018, https://culinarylore.com/food-history:reeses-pieces-instead-of-m-and-ms-in-et/.
“Mars.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, www.forbes.com/companies/mars/.
“Hershey (HSY).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, www.forbes.com/companies/hershey/.
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith.
What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith.
The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:
–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?
I rarely watch television. I find most programming today unimaginative (e.g. reboots) and fraught with immorality. When I do watch something, it’s likely a sporting event, home improvement show, or vintage sitcom. As I was catching a few minutes of a classic sitcom, my dad remarked that one of the actresses on screen died from cancer during the run of the show. Curious, I looked up information about the show on the internet. In so doing, I encountered a curious expression: “rural purge.”
In 1970, American broadcasters, particularly CBS, put the ax to lighthearted, rural-themed and folksy shows then airing on TV in favor of more socially progressive urban and suburban-set shows. Pat Buttram, the actor who played the role of “Mr. Haney” on Green Acres, is quoted by Ken Berry as saying of the rural purge “It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it.” 1 Ken Berry thought that CBS was tired of being teased as the “Country Broadcasting System” since they perceived themselves as the “Tiffany Network” because of their vaunted news division. 2 It had been the executive in charge of programming at CBS who was tired of the shows and canceled them despite their good Nielsen ratings. The absence of family-friendly fare did not go unnoticed by the public, including even politicians like President Nixon. 3
The “rural purge” suggests several Biblical points to me. First, it demonstrates an unfortunate characteristic of fallen human nature that the proven (and wholesome) is often dumped for something else simply because of its “novelty.” God noted this was likewise true in Jeremiah’s day. When He advised them to take the established path, they refused (Jeremiah 6.16). They preferred their new, idolatrous way.
Second, it shows us why leadership matters. Paul warned the coming apostasy would begin with the elders (Acts 20.29-30.) I am mindful of congregations about which I’ve read in some of our brotherhood publications where the Biblical pattern was changed after the elders “reconsidered an issue prayerfully.” The sheep who know that their shepherds are leading them astray are left with a dilemma. Despite nothing being wrong previously, changes were foisted upon them by the leadership. Their family is changed. What will they do?
Lastly, it shows the importance of perseverance.
As the “rural purge” continued, there arose an anomaly. To placate the aforementioned public complaints, CBS reluctantly greenlighted a Christmas special based on a story by Earl Hamner, Jr. They purposely pitted it against popular shows on other networks they felt would crush their program! It didn’t. It was such a hit that CBS had no choice but to develop it into a new series that would run for 9 seasons. The Waltons. Because people refused to give up and give in to whims of the programing executive at CBS, a renaissance of family-friendly programs on all networks began.
Sometimes we feel as if our efforts are wasted, especially when it comes to our sinful culture. However, we are told that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. So, we are exhorted to remain steadfast (1 Corinthians 15.58). God ensures that His Word doesn’t return void and gives increase when faithfully spoken (Isaiah 55.11; 1 Corinthians 3.5-7). Therefore, let us stand and let our voices be heard, even if we find ourselves amid a “Christian purge.”
1 “Television Academy Interviews.” Television Academy Interviews, Television Academy, 22 Feb. 2019, interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/ken-berry?clip=60761#highlight-clips.
3 “Rural Purge.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_purge.
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).
This past May, I began my twenty-second year of running. In that time, I’ve logged thousands of miles. At 49, I am happy to say that my knees are doing fine but time may change that. One of the risks of running, to listen to some, is wearing out places like knees and hips. But, I’m hoping I’m prolonging my life and helping vital organs through exercise.
Spiritually, I put my “knees” to the test, too. The challenge to protect my knees is a daily struggle that I confess I am still working on. I do not want to wear those knees out through:
So, then, how should I wear out those knees?
Paul says we’re running a race that we must win (1 Cor. 9:24-27). I’m going to need healthy knees to do that. That may mean wearing them out in ways like those just mentioned while avoiding behaviors like those mentioned before them. At times, spiritually, I’ve needed not knee replacement but a replacement of what I do with those knees. May I never forget to brace those knees with the resources God has given to me!