Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we mess up spiritually. We’ll think, “Guess I blew it, there’s no point in trying now.” Guilt or frustration over the difficulty of living for God and falling short is a powerful Achilles Heel of ours. Paul describes our struggle with sin as combat with self (Romans 7).
A Christian who is fighting to follow God is still going to sin at some point. We sometimes allow the loss of that battle to drag us into a pattern of sinning solely because we’ve become discouraged that we even allowed that sin to happen.
I’d like to point out that we aren’t alone in that struggle. Consider Job 38.7: angels – who do not need faith because they live in the presence of God – were up close and personal to the creation of our incredible universe. They watched in awe as God fabricated the stars. They heard those stars sing, which means that they were amazed by the sheer power and majesty of what we can only hear as obscure signals. They were right there!
Some of those same angels were caught up in sin (II Peter 2.4ff; Jude 6-9). Satan currently has followers who were at one time up close and personal to the Power behind our existence (Romans 12.7ff; Matthew 25:41).
If an angel, a being who does not serve God based on a mere belief in His existence, but because they were originally created for the sole purpose of carrying out His will, and who are eyewitnesses to His existence and unlimited power, can be tempted to the extent that they are willing to abandon the presence of God and forfeit ever seeing His face again, who are we to think that our struggle is that defeating?
God does not have a salvation plan for angelic beings (II Peter 2.4). When they breach their boundaries, that’s it. The moment they act outside of God’s will is the moment they forfeit the presence of God for eternity.
We are lower than angels on the creation totem pole (Psalm 8.5), yet we have Jesus as a mediator defending us before God (I John 2.1) and constantly making us sinless in God’s eyes when we’re doing our best to live for Him (I John 1.7). We have a gift that angels do not enjoy: we get extra chances. As long as we are willing to wage war with our sinful desires, as long as we are striving to be like Him, and as long as we are trying to incorporate the word of God into our lives, we have grace.
We’re stepping out of the concrete and into conjecture, but there is at least some evidence that lust (Genesis 6; II Peter 2; Jude 6-9) and perhaps tragedy (Matthew 18.10) are enough to make an angel forfeit their home. Again, this is pure conjecture but it has, at the very least, some scriptural evidence to suggest legitimacy.
When we sin, we need to take a step back and get some perspective. We must not brush off sin as being inconsequential, but we also must avoid allowing a mistake to send us into a dysfunctional pattern just because we think, “I’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying now” or, “This struggle is too great for me.” If angels aren’t immune, why on earth would we think that we are supposed to be?
The beauty of Christianity is found in God’s grace. It is understandable, seeing how some have abused the subject, to want to avoid the topic altogether. How many, though, have found themselves trapped in sin because they did not understand or believe in the power of God’s continual forgiveness?
Understanding what we have when we make a concerted effort to follow God is of the highest importance. We will sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are liar and there is no truth in us (I John 1.8). When we do sin, let’s remember that not only can we have forgiveness if we’re walking in light, we’re not especially awful just because we find ourselves falling short. If even God’s angels can be tempted to the point of leaving His presence forever, so can we who have not seen His face. And let that cause us to seek His face with even more enthusiasm than before!
I Corinthians 10.13
II Peter 3.9
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
A knock came on my door one day, I opened and it was Sin
Before that moment we hadn’t met, but still I let him in
He made me laugh, and seemed alright
so I let him stay a night
though he was quite a mouth to feed
He was entertaining
so he kept remaining—
With me, another day
One evening he sat at my table and dined
In an empty house I sat alone
The tears welled up, I should have known
and now I’m skin and bone
Then again I heard a knock on my door
the previous left me dejected and poor
but only opened it so wide
on the other side
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
You can learn much by observing nature. Not only can one know God by looking at nature (Romans 1.18-20), he can learn specific lessons on various topics by looking at specific aspects of God’s creation (e.g. ants teach industry, Proverbs 6.6-8). I was watching a humorous scene outside my office window recently and was reminded of this.
Our household, despite being full of “dog-people,” has cats for “pets.” Let’s just say that we feed the cats and provide them outdoor shelter for keeping mice, moles, and snakes away from the house. In many respects, they’re feral but become domesticated long enough to eat the kibble we put out. And, if they feel like initiating it, contact resembling petting may occur. If there is one thing I don’t like about cats, though, it is their murderous nature. Even though well-fed, cats will kill for sport. 1
This latter observation creates a conflict for someone who has always enjoyed feeding and watching birds as well. We had to give up putting out birdseed when the cats became a part of our household. At first, the birds avoided our house. Yet, kittens learn by watching adult cats. If adult cats don’t teach kittens how to hunt, they aren’t as successful at it. As the senior hunters have passed from disease and predation or gone fully feral, being chased off by other cats, the birds have begun coming back without our encouragement. Frankly, I think a few of those “birdbrains” must be rather smart.
One such smarty was teasing one of our cats the other day. He or she served as a good example of the tempter. As Angelo, a cat with a pattern of “angel’s wings” on his back, was slowly climbing up a budding, dogwood tree, the bird did not fly away. Instead, the avian adversary just side-stepped further to the right out on to thinner branches. The higher Angelo climbed, the thinner the branch on which the bird rested became. It seemed as if the bird knew that if Angelo tried to pounce on him or her, he would go crashing to the ground while he or she would just fly away. Angelo really thought about his situation. It took him several minutes, but he finally understood that despite his prowess, continuing towards his coveted prize would lead to his harm. Thus, to his chagrin, he slowly made his way back down the tree to the safety of the ground below.
Herein is the lesson from nature. The tempter will lure you out from “relative safety” in order to bring your desire close, only to ensure when you pounce on it, you will end up falling flat on your face (consider Romans 6.23). We must ensure we are aware of where we are (Hebrews 2.1-4). The branches upon which we make our way may grow thin quickly, depriving us of a solid foundation, and causing us to fall.
Of a truth, no one ever sets out to fall, he just fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Keep your eyes on what lies beneath your feet (1 Corinthians 10.12).
1 Traywick, Catherine. “Killer Kitties: Study Proves They’re Not as Innocent As They Look.” Time, Time, 9 Aug. 2012, newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/09/killer-kitties-study-proves-theyre-not-as-innocent-as-they-look/.
Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes).
But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins.
When might he seek to employ his schemes?
- When new elders are appointed
- During building programs
- As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
- When preachers come and go
- In a flurry of exciting activities
- In the heart of some church problem or struggle
- At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
- Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
- When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church
Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.
Misty Ann Weaver made a tragic decision. The Houston-area licensed vocational nurse is charged in the burning death of three people after she started a fire in her six-story office building. Why did she take such horrible measures that resulted in the unnecessary, tragic deaths of these victims? She was apparently behind on an audit for her plastic surgeon boss, and she feared being fired. She just wanted to start a small fire, enough to cause a distraction and buy herself more time. Obviously, she accomplished more than she intended.
Ms. Weaver is an extreme example of the tendency to try and avoid consequences by resorting to sin to “cover up” a shortcoming or failure. While few of us will wind up facing three felony murder counts, we are all tempted to “cover up” in this way. When we fail to study for a test, we may resort to cheating to “cover up” that fact. When we have a low self-image, we may resort to gossip or backbiting to “cover up” perceived flaws about ourselves. When we are afraid of negative consequences for not meeting some responsibility or expectation, we may turn to lying to “cover up” that inadequacy. The irony is seen in that the “cover up” inevitably puts us in greater spiritual trouble than before we engaged in it.
We may “cover up” for fear of the disapproval of others, out of embarrassment or shame, or out of concern for certain repercussions. Yet, to turn to sin to shield ourselves from the ramifications of our actions is to compound the problem. Let us have the courage to face God and man, to provide things honest in the sight of all men (cf. Romans 12:17). Israel was warned about the danger of adding sin to sin (Isaiah 30:1). It is strength of character to do our best in our every endeavor, but it is also strength of character, when we have failed to so do, to courageously, honestly “face the music.” However we rationalize, the fallout from this will be less severe than the “cover up” is!
…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?
We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.
The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3).
Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.
If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!
I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water. He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive. Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.
Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham. Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).
What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense. Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19). At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution. The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering. We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return. We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start. Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before. We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.
Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away. He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22). Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.
May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal. Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him. How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story? It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication. Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Who knows how these silly rumors get started? It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault. Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.
Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive. Consider the following sentiments:
- “One church is as good as another”
- “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
- “God just wants you to be happy”
- “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
- “Truth is whatever you think it is”
- “If it feels good, do it”
Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself. The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4). Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth? “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).