Thursday Column: Captain’s Blog
- The lust of the flesh (she wanted to eat of the fruit)
- The lust of the eyes (literally says “it was a delight to the eyes,” v.6)
- Pride of life (she wanted to become wise and have power)
Christianity is important to us. Making sure we live the right way is important to us. Because our loyalty to God is important to us, and because our lifestyle is characterized by avoiding evil, many believe that our mission in life is to defeat evil. Some Christians believe that this involves social activism or influencing public opinion. Nothing about this is intrinsically wrong, but it cannot be our primary focus.
Evil exists, period. Humanity introduced evil when we disobeyed God. As we noted last week, evil is on borrowed time thanks to Jesus, but it will exist until the end of time. So, what’s our job if fighting evil isn’t top of the list?
Christians are people who decide to follow God. That means living based on his moral code, not on humanity’s. That means we avoid practicing morally evil things. We recognize the influence that evil has on the world. We understand the consequences of choosing evil over God.
Christians are recruiters! We’re a tight knit group of people with shared goals, views, and struggles. Part of our job is to keep each other strong (Gal. 6.10; I Pet. 1.22; Heb. 3.12,13). The rest of our job is to recruit people to populate heaven (Matt. 28.19; Acts 20.24; Jn.15). God also expects us to be good citizens and live quiet, peaceful lives (Rom. 13; I Pet. 2.13; I Tim. 2.2; I Thess. 4.11).
Jesus defeated evil (I Jn. 3.8, 4.4; Col. 2.15), and he will personally destroy it forever at the end (Rev. 20; II Pet. 3.7). For now, though, evil is inevitable (I Jn. 5.19). Our job is to share God’s hope with those who don’t have it. By avoiding evil ourselves and helping others escape its influence, we help diminish its influence on the world!
One of the most concise and beautiful teachings about God is in John. He plainly states some awesome things, full of impact and depth.
“The Word existed in the beginning…” This, along with other statements made in this context, highlights how tragic it is that the world systemically rejects him. There was only a “beginning” because of him.
“…the Word existed with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God, who created everything through Him. Nothing that exists was created without Him.” God took a demotion to save us (Heb. 2.9). The same one who used the Father’s power to fabricate reality.
“Life came from Him…” Humans only had the power to take life away from the source of life because He let them.
“…and this life was humanity’s light.” His selflessness gave us hope for a better existence.
“This light shined through the darkness, and darkness can’t smother it.” Evil is on borrowed time and it knows it. Jesus put a countdown on the existence of evil. When its time runs out, it’ll never bother His people again (II Pet. 3.13; Rev. 20.12-15).
We deal with real problems thanks to darkness. What Jesus did wasn’t just a nice gesture. He destroyed the very possibility of darkness, creating a reality in which His own – made eternally perfect through His sacrifice – can never mess things up again. I want to live in that kind of reality with that kind of God.
I sat next to a man at dinner the other night, a retired Marine officer named Anthony who was now a successful businessman. Though he was in his sixties and had six grandchildren, he could have passed, even with a smattering of gray hair, for an elite athlete. He was incredibly intelligent, articulate, a war hero, wealthy, and, by anyone’s estimation, a true Renaissance man. He was also a brand new Christian.
Despite his apparent success, he confessed to having experienced decades of emptiness inside. He described it as I have often heard people describe it, that there was a hole inside and nothing he tried would fill it. He pictured it as painting a facade. He held out the canvas for others to see what he projected, but the man behind the painting was hollow, depressed, and ever searching.
That changed when his neighbor, a man named David Grimes, took an interest in his life. They began walking together in their neighborhood, discussing life. David would always refer Anthony to the Bible and what God’s Word had to say. At some time later, when Anthony faced a crisis, he found himself reaching out to David for help. Ultimately, through David’s friendship and his efforts to teach him, Anthony obeyed the gospel!
Anthony said, “There are a lot of people like me out there! They seem secure, confident, in control, and without need. But they are searching to fill a void in their lives. I know. I was one of them.” We can convince ourselves in these troubling, ungodly times that nobody is interested in God and His Word. Anthony would encourage you to get involved in the lives of your coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and the people you connect with through your children’s activities. No matter what they are projecting, invest in them. At some point, they will let you in. They will allow you to look behind the canvas and the pretty picture they have painted, and you will see a soul searching for something only God can satisfy! God is counting on us to see past the pretense and help that person He loved enough to give His Son for. The picture of success in the world’s eyes was secretly aching for something deeper and better. He found it in the only place it can be found–in Christ!
Please look behind the canvas!
I was 16 years old and I remember thinking, I’ll be happy when I get a new phone. I was 17 years old and I told myself, I’ll be happy when I get my own vehicle. I was 18 and I remember thinking, I’ll be happy when I get a newer phone. I was 19 and I thought, I’ll be happy when I get a newer truck.
At 16 I got a new phone and I was happy, until I dropped it in a hotel toilet a month later. I was 17 and I got my own truck and I was happy, until the transmission went out on the way to school. I was 18 and I got a newer phone, and I was happy until I left it on the roof of my dads car as we drove home from church. I was 19 and I got a truck that was nicer than anything I could ever want. I was happy, until it broke down on an Indian reservation in Arizona.
I thought I knew what would make me happy. I chased after the physical possessions that I thought would bring me joy. The problem that I failed to see was that phones break and trucks aren’t always reliable. My happiness would run out when my stuff would break.
People are constantly searching for happiness. Why? Because they don’t know what will make them truly happy. It’s a daily experiment that never gives them the result they are looking for. There are millions of books, movies, articles, and lessons geared toward helping us find true happiness.
“How to be happy” is one of the most searched phrases on Google, second only to “how to lose weight.” We ask this question because we can’t find the answer. Solomon asked this question in Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity says the preacher.” The wisest man in the world wanted happiness and looked at every possible solution. He looked to money, drinking, and women. Every time Solomon placed his happiness in these things, he was left feeling empty. He finally found the secret to life: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).
Every earthly option was tried, and none of them seemed to work. The bottom line is to fear God and keep His commandments. Why? Because God knows His creation. Do you struggle with finding happiness? Do you want nothing more than to be content? The answer isn’t found in the world. You won’t find true, lasting happiness in anything on this earth.
Happiness is found in our purpose as God’s chosen (1 Peter 2:9), in loving God (Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37-39), and in showing gratitude (Psa. 118:1; 136:1; 147:7).
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!
Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).
As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.
To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.
We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.
My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.
The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.
Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations. Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with? It changes colors to blend in with its environment. From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them. Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.
Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).
We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).
Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!
When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.). But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying. Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.” But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).
It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:
Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us. Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.
When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick. No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.
In 1 John 5:19, John readies the close of this epistle by observing, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (NKJ). The Greek word translated “lies in the power of” (ESV, NAS) or “is under the sway of” is a word meaning “to be in the power of one” (Zodhiates) and “to lie in” (TDNT). Bauer adds, “As the believer abides in Christ, so that he is nourished and fruitfully sustained by Him, so the world lies in the devil, by whom it is controlled and rendered helpless and powerless, and finally killed” (ibid.). This gives us a clear picture of not only what the saints in John’s day dealt with, but also what our current spiritual climate is.
There is a growing culture of unbelief in contemporary society, a skepticism toward a truly biblical worldview. With that, there is an intolerance bred by ignorance, a bias against the objective truth of Scripture. In its place, there is a glorification of and infatuation with people and things the Bible calls sin. That is not novel to our age. Yet, it is good for us to be reminded that such misplaced affection is the result of a culture that lies in the devil, controlled and subdued by his way of thinking. Paul tells the would be soul-winner to approach that work this way, “gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses” (2 Tim. 2:24-26a). What’s their problem? They are in “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26b).
We encounter people every day whose choices are the result of having come under the sway of the devil. They have shaped their lives, their goals, and their desires, by the way he says that fulfillment, satisfaction, and pleasure are derived. For many, they do not know another way much less the way God has laid out in His Word. Perhaps if we remind ourselves how people got where they are, we can help them get where Christ wants them to go. So many are looking for a better way and they know they have not found it. Let us invest ourselves in them and through that relationship show them “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).