Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
David was broken and battered by sin. He would feel its effects from his public life to his private life for the rest of his life. In the aftermath of his actions with Bathsheba and the subsequent cover-up, the wounds of sin left visible scars. Nathan’s accusing words perhaps ringing in his ears, he sits down to pen by inspiration the haunting, but hopeful, 51st Psalm. We often dwell more on the first part, the multifaceted description of sin and the more beautiful pictures of forgiveness. But, to me, the most beautiful part of the psalm is when David starts using the word “then.”
Satan would love for sin to defeat us. He would like the guilt to overwhelm us, to keep us from the restoration David longs for here. David is speaking prospectively, asking for a clean heart, renewed spirit, spiritual fellowship, joy and sustenance from God. But, he asks for it for a purpose. In doing so, he shows us what God wants to do with us and for us after our “cuts” become “scars.”
After the cuts become scars…
REACH OUT TO THE LOST (Psalm 51:13). On the other side of repentance, David was anxious to help others reeling from their spiritual wounds. As we overcome through God’s help, we can be a tool in His hand to relate to and rescue others struggling just like we did. It would be far better to have never gone down the road of sin, but having truly come back we can understand the desperate, dark place transgressors are walking.
BE A FAITHFUL WORSHIPPER (Psalm 51:14). David, the master musician, had lost his song in the far country. He yearned for joyful song. Worship loses its power and purity in our lives when we are living in darkness. We feel hypocritical and empty, just going through the motions. But, back in His glorious light, we can experience that lifted up feeling once more. David shows us the blessing of restoration, a spirit renewed to enjoy further renewal in faithful worship.
GIVE GOD SACRIFICES (Psalm 51:15-17). David mentions the sacrifice of praise, a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. It is obvious, from context, that these sacrifices would reveal themselves in his service to God and to others. This is not merely guilt-driven service, an effort to make amends for the evil influence of his sin. Having been made whole, David has a clarity of purpose that appreciates better what God wants from him. We can be fruitful and useful to Him, scars and all.
ACCEPT GOD’S DELIGHT (Psalm 51:18-19). How many times did David relive those moments from the rooftop to the prophet’s visit? How often did he wish he could just go back and undo it all? How long did he wrestle with accepting God’s forgiveness and wondering if God could take him back? He shows an appreciation for the prospect of God’s delight. He rightly feels responsible for others, and he wants to lead them to do what’s right. But, I love what he anticipates. He knows God will be delighted with the offering. Did you know that? Did you know that God can delight in you again, when you bring him your sin-scarred life and offer your righteous sacrifices? He doesn’t want to discard you. He wants to delight in you!
It must have continued to be hard for David. He had reminders everywhere. He could not undo his past. But, he did the right thing. Having dealt with his past, he focused on the present and looked to the future. That’s what God wants us to do after our cuts become scars!
If what we are after is divine guidance for who a Christian is, what he or she does, and how God wants one to live, where else would we turn but to the New Testament? A God who engineered us for eternity and tells us we have but two eternal dwelling places would be cruel and unloving if He did not give us clear, thorough answers to any matter that is important to Him. How loving and faithful for God to give us such an unambiguous guide.
The idea of restoring New Testament Christianity is “that God set forth His standard of acceptance in salvation, worship, church organization and daily living” and “to follow the teachings of God, revealed in the New Testament, to direct our lives in the same way as He did first century Christians” (therestorationmovement.com/about.htm). We can open our Bibles and find a pattern for what the New Testament church is to look like, not in customs and culture, but in commands and cause. Yet, a tendency we must guard against is a haughty spirit that portrays the idea that we have already arrived. Consider four areas where we need to keep at the restoration plea and overcome neglect.
I love to spend as much time as possible talking about what the church is doing right. It is doing so much right. By following the New Testament pattern regarding salvation, worship, the church’s purpose, and the like, we stand out in a religious world that has lost its way. Meanwhile, however, let us stay at the business of restoring the church to the pattern revealed in Scripture, even in areas that are more difficult and demanding though just as necessary.
As David let flow from his divinely-inspired pen the peaceful refrain, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1), he knew something of the absence of unity. Though God through Samuel had anointed him king, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David” (cf. 2 Sam. 3-4). This internal strife spanned seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5). While he would reign over a united kingdom for the next 33 years, his grandson would cause a rift within Israel that would never be repaired (1 Kings 12). Division weakened them, dividing brother against brother, diminishing their influence and making them more vulnerable. Israel was unique among the nations of world history, being both a physical people and the spiritual people of God. Their division was not just a geo-political problem, but also a religious one.
Our nation has known the pain and injury of division. An entire war was fought that put states and communities at odds with one another. Currently, we are being reminded of how sharp a difference exists in this nation along so many cultural, philosophical, social, and ethnic lines. It is openly displayed with words and even protests. How that will be resolved only time will tell.
For many centuries, there has been division between people who all profess belief in and allegiance to Christ. “Denominationalism” is a word that inheres division. Because men have inserted their own will and dogma, transposing it onto Scripture, there has been massive division that has been a stumbling block for unbelievers pointing to disunity among those who claim the same Jesus as Lord. Unbelievers have seen division, often shown in ugly and worldly ways.
Among those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity, seeking to be the church of the Bible and be non-denominational or pre-denominational, there has also been so much division. Some have foisted division upon the church by introducing doctrines not authorized by Scripture or in violation of Scripture. Those in such doctrines cease to be Christ’s church so long as they continue in them. Others have created doctrines beyond what Christ has authorized, making themselves the standard and arbitrator of right and wrong instead of recognizing Christ as such. Sadly, these, too, have caused division among God’s people. It is truly difficult to get self out of the way and to be governed only by the will of God.
So it is with every matter that divides us. Self, with all its ugly, blind, poor, and wretched tendencies, so often becomes a wedge making biblical unity difficult. Paul laments that it comes in the wake of lining up behind men and following them (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If ever the world has needed to find repose from rancor, ridicule, and roiling, it is the present hour. If they ever needed a safe haven where they found people who love one another (John 13:34-35), are patient, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving with each other (Col. 3:12-13), and who treat others with respect and kindness (cf. Luke 10:30-37), it is now. Each of us needs to examine our own work (Gal. 6:4). Are we helping our community, our congregation, our friends and our family see the good and pleasant unity found in making Jesus Lord–Lord of our lives, our tongues, our jobs, our classrooms, our social media accounts, our positions, etc.? This is a stewardship that demands tender care. May we ever be about the diligent work of destroying division! Jesus died to do the same (John 17:20-21).
When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).
Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.
Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!
There was a disappearance and a murder confession. So, the last thing police expected when they stopped at “Mrs. Schneider’s” apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, was to find the 1984 murder victim, Petra Pazsitka, talking to them. Thus began the unraveling of an elaborate plot by Ms. Pazskitka to disappear and reemerge with a new identity. She was successful for 31 years, living in several West German cities without a passport, driver’s license, and social security card. She supported herself by “living off illicit cash-in-hand work” (via uk.news.yahoo.com). Why did the college student who had just completed her thesis on computer languages leave the grid and go into hiding? So far, there has been no explanation given. Perhaps there will eventually be more details and insight into this bizarre situation, but for now a grief-stricken family can take some measure of comfort in knowing their loved one they thought was dead is alive.
Spiritually, we are surrounded by the living dead. It is the result of choices they’ve made. This is even true for some who have abandoned God’s family and reemerged in the world having cast off the privileges and position of that honorable name they took on when they were baptized into Christ.
Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). He tells Timothy, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). God diagnosed an entire church, Sardis, “having a reputation of being alive” as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Of course, nothing illustrates the point better than Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son was off in the “far country,” and through that lifestyle he reached the point of desperation and despair. He repented and came home, where his father declared “my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).
Sometimes, it makes no sense to us why a brother or sister leaves God’s family, abandoning spiritual life, hope, and heaven for spiritual death, hopelessness, and hell. Yet, we must continue to search for them. Let us pray that we can find those long since declared dead and encourage them so that we “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). Search for them. Appeal to them. Help them reclaim the blessed identity they had when they had “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket. It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris. If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program. Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.
When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement. James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction. The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.
To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church. It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.
Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting. It is no longer sin and self, but God. What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”
A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance. It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going. After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended. Otherwise, the fire dies.
Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son. In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3). Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame. Perhaps the fire had already gone out. What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.
Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.
Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished? Have you wondered what you might do for them? Follow Paul’s pattern. Pray for them, then gently let them know you are. Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you. Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.
If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1. However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die. I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!
We are now several days into an unspeakable tragedy that is equally mysterious. Despite sophisticated tracking methods and multi-national radar, a Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared without warning or a trace on Saturday, March 8, 2014. The disappearance of Flight 370 is an enigma because “there are only a handful of scenarios that could explain how a usually reliable wide-body jet could seemingly vanish from a clear sky with no distress call and no obvious debris field” (Tracy Connor, NBC News online). At this point, all experts have are theories—mechanical malfunction, bomb or explosion, hijacking, pilot error or sabotage (ibid.). None of the theories is entirely satisfactory, however, and friends and family from 14 nations find no consolation or closure from this heretofore unsolved mystery.
Though it fails to make the news or be as dramatic, there are mysterious disappearances continuously occurring. It is usually possible to physically find the missing, but it can be just as hard to understand exactly why they came to be “missing” all the same. There are multiple causes, but that does little to bring consolation or satisfaction. I am referring to Christians who fall away from faithfulness.
Some fall away because of structural problems, a failure on the part of the congregation or some negative influence within it (cf. Mat. 18:6). Bad example, being a stumbling block, and thoughtless speech are ways we can contribute to a Christian falling. Some fall away because of something that “explodes” or “blows up” in their lives—financially, relationally, emotionally, or the like (Luke 8:13). Some fall away because their faith is hijacked, maybe by a false teacher or even a well-meaning family member who is bothered by their “changing religions” (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1). Some simply fall away because of “pilot error”—their own failure to successfully navigate the difficulties of living the Christian life (Luke 8:14; Heb. 6:4-6). No matter how it happens, it should be a source of sadness and concern to those of us still striving to walk in the light. More than that, we must become part of the search and rescue team. Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20 are just two of the passages that should convict and challenge us in this work. Not even the loss of a single person should be considered acceptable loss. Not with so much at stake and not given the high price Jesus paid for each and every soul!