"Sufficient to say, greed is a deadly deed.” These are hardly the words that get screen printed on T-shirts for st. Patrick’s day, and yet, of all the ‘legends’ of Patrick, this is the only one that we can safely say are a factual representation of him. He wrote these words as he denounced slave trade.
Without fail and with much fanfare, March is memorialized mostly for the proverbial ‘luck O’ the Irish’ as the 17th day of the month honors the larger than legend Patricius, more commonly known at st. Patrick. Green beer, green rivers, shamrocks and a festive day of parades and general merry-making mark this day like no other in our calendar year. And yet, all of these events, without fail, take any consideration of Patrick or the true historical narrative of his life.
Born in the late 4th century in either Britain or Scotland (even the experts are uncertain), Patrick was captured in a raid at the age of 16 and was taken to what was still a very crude, pagan nation of Ireland. He spent the next several years of his life as a slave tending, and living with sheep. Even though his grandfather was a priest and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God”. But in spite of that, he spent his years of bondage in prayer, and even orchestrated his escape that was inspired by a dream that he had.
Upon finding passage to his homeland, Patrick became a Christian and spent years studying in preparation to return to Ireland bearing the Gospel message. He realized this missionary journey at the age of 41 where he would spend the better part of his life circuiting the country. As Ireland was still a rather “uncivilized” country, Patrick knew that in order to be successful, as the prior missionary movements to Ireland had not, he had to win over the chieftains of the local clans. Win them over, and their influence would help win over the rest of the clans.
His theology was driven largely by the recognition of God in creation and legend has it that Patrick would explain the Trinitarian God by using the shamrock as a prop. He would ask, does this have one leaf or three? Those listening would respond with “both”, upon which Patrick would say that both are correct, and so it is with the Trinity (the historical authenticity of this actual happening is at best, scarce).
Other legends of Patrick include stories that he drove out the snakes in Ireland, his walking stick grew into a living tree, and he encountered two ancient Irish warriors who had somehow survived the centuries until Patrick’s time. The end result is that none of these legends were true, and it is also true that Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic church as a saint.
But what is true about Patrick is that he had an undeniable burden for the pagans to have encounter the God of creation, and it was to that end that he devoted his life. His missionary journeys to Ireland paved the way for the expansion of Christianity in the land, and soon after, Ireland would become known as one of Europe’s Christian centers.
Shamrock shakes and leprechaun outfits might be the ‘fun concept’ of Patrick, we can conclude that the only legend that might have some validity is the date; March 17th is assumed to be the day he died, and thus, we mark that date now as st. Patrick’s day.
Like most of the other “festive days” in our calendar, Valentines day has been hi-jacked by commercialism. When I was a restaurant manager, Valentines (weekend) was the one of, if not, the busiest weekend of the entire year. If per chance a snowstorm would hit (which happened frequently), the budget for the entire year was often lost. To say that Valentines day is big business is an understatement.
But what or maybe better, where did Valentines day come from? The complete story of its origins is incomplete. What we do know with modest certainty is that the man, Valentine, would be shown a martyr’s death in 270 AD confessing Christ Jesus to his last breath. Pope Gelasius would later write that Valentine is among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”
Tradition tells us that Valentine was a doctor and a priest. Caring for a person’s body as well as their spiritual health. This was certainly a mark of a person who demonstrated tender care of others. In this noble profession did he mirror our Lord Jesus Christ, who healed the sick and lame and brought salvation to all who would believe.
On the day of his death, Valentine is said to have offered up words of love and encouragement to the young daughter of his jailer by writing her a letter. It seems as thought she had grown to love Valentine and the thought of his death was very grievous to her. Hence, the custom of Valentines cards first came to light, and not long after that tradition spread far and wide.
From what is really a rather obscure life, Valentine demonstrated unyielding boldness and courage in face of his own death. He carried the cross of Christ in the perfect expression of humility and sacrifice. He encouraged those who knew and loved him in perfect obedience of the Christians call to “not neglect to build each other up”.
Most of us have no understanding of the man who started this tradition, probably, most don’t even know that Valentines day is named after a saint. But it is God who remembers His saints, and He does so across all of time. You do not need to have a special day named after you in order to be counted as one of God’s saints.
The events of the past 12 months have undoubtedly accelerated the overall apathy of Christians towards their religiosity, their church, and ultimately towards God! While some will take exception to this declaration (and that’s fine, you might be the exception), I would say that apathy is not a by-product of these past 12 months. It is instead a much deeper-rooted attitude of the post-modern Christian, and the emergence of a new strain of the Corona virus coupled with the ultra-emergence of political divisiveness has done nothing more than add another layer of post-modern excuses in the Christians justification for ignoring the 12th chapter of Hebrews (the call for the Believers endurance and submission to the Fathers discipline).
I could even say that the authors call to ‘not neglect to meet together and to encourage one another in order to stir each other up to display love and good works’ gets added to the heap pile as well. Many will disdainfully exclaim, “the churches have been closed, we haven’t ‘been allowed’ to worship together, it’s kind of hard to gather together when we are not allowed to’”. Indeed, this is not a false charge. The churches have been caught in the tension of submission and love for thy neighbor, and as such, have waded through these events in a manner that each church elected leaders have responded to according to the Spirit’s urging.
But as stated, this general apathy has been alive and well long before 2020. Church’s prior to 2020 it is estimated, have seen 5000 to 10000 shutters per year. Individual membership in churches have also witnessed a drastic reduction as only 50% of Americans now identify with a church opposed to 70% just twenty years ago. Indeed, apathy has been alive and well. For me It begs the question; do you love the Gospel?
When I use the term “Gospel”, I am not making a general reference to the first four books of the New Testament, but rather, I mean the content of those four books, as well as the content of the other 62 books of the Word of God. When I use the term Gospel, my understanding finds its source in Romans 1:16; “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”
The gospel reveals the power of God in extending salvation, freely, for those who believe! This is an amazing exclamation which is the “only” good news in the history of “eternal truths”. And what do Believers to about this? The sad reality is the difference between “what do Believers do about this and what should Believers do!” Evidently Believers understand “salvation” as a “get out of jail free card”. It affords them inexhaustible liberties in the here and now, including the allowance to “grieve the Holy Spirit” and suppress His expressed “fruits” in the Believers constitution. Sadly, this is the tragedy for all too many Christians today and the church (not to mention the unbelieving world) suffers the effect of this.
It was with an unquenchable sadness that the Apostle Paul grieved over the “lostness” of his fellow kin-folk, the Israelite, of which Paul was one. I am confident that they believed themselves to be quite religious. With form and fashion did they observe the temple worship, the laws of Moses, the altar sacrifices, etc. etc. etc. But the outward showing of their religion was devoid of any inner transformation of the heart.
It is the transformation of the heart that the power of God’s salvation performs. As the prophet Ezekiel exclaimed, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I (God) will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Not only is the Believers heart disposition changed dramatically, it is also made the seat, and the source, of “Christ in me”. This is the reality Paul writes of to the Colossian church (1:27), this is the mystery of which Old Testament saints looked for, and which has been made manifest for all the whole world to see in the person and work of Christ Jesus.
Do you understand these implications? Christ Jesus takes on you sin debt, but that’s only half of the story; He places His Spirit in your heart. Author and Pastor David Platt wrote that “Christianity is nothing less than the outliving of the indwelling of Christ. Christ in you transforming your mind and emotions.”
Paul loved this Gospel so much that he was willing to be “cursed by God forever” if it meant his kinsmen could experience this life altering change from God (Rom. 9:3)! Do you love the gospel that much? Many will reply, “yes indeed”, but their witness betrays the truth.
Attending your local church does not make you a Christian, but it is part and parcel of a transformed heart and life in the same way as are daily devotions in the Scriptures and prayer. You cannot disconnect one from the other anymore than you could disconnect a terminal from a battery and expect your car to start.
The cross that Christ Jesus endured was nothing but pain, suffering and then death; and it made us right before God. The Lord Jesus did all the sacrificing, ours was nothing other than this; “I sinned”. Would you sacrifice your life in order that your countrymen would come to enjoy the love of Christ Jesus…just as He has graciously and generously done for you?
Do you love the Gospel?
“In with the new and out with the old”, or so the saying goes. With 2019 behind us and 2020 squarely facing us, I am never surprised at the sheer volume of quotes from people that I know dedicating the new year to…themselves! For whatever reasons, 2019 was a bad year, an unjust year, a poor year, and the stories go on and on. But inextricably, the new year arrives, and with it comes the promises of good fortune, individual and career successes, good health, fame, well, you get the picture.
Even televangelist and preacher (cough, cough) Joel Osteen tells us that “Your Best is Yet to Come”. So, what happens then, when the new year, looks eerily similar to the old one? Do you pine for 2021?
When you set your sights on earthy things and earthly pleasures, then it really should come as no surprise when “bad things” come your way. We live in a broken world amongst a broken people, and despite all of our best efforts, the brokenness that engulfs us will constantly strive against God. However, there is a flip side to this quandary; when you set your sights on heavenly things, God is a sure bet. His promises are ironclad guarantees, of which one is that “He will never leave you nor forsake you”!
In fact, it is not my idea to set your sight on heavenly things. Instead it is the Word of God that actually tells us to do exactly this; Paul, writing to the church in Colossae stated this; “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…do not set your minds on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col.3:1-4)
The Greek word for “set” means to strive after, be intent on, and it tells you to choose to live this way. It’s not something that just occurs one time and we can forget about it. It’s a way of living, a way of life, that allows you to be set free from the trappings of the world. Those same trappings that would seek to hold you down and render you another casualty in a long list of casualties.
When you become born again, you are given a gift that assures you the victory, both in the here and now, and in eternity. You can stop agonizing over lost opportunities and bad seasons in your life, and instead nurture and grow the faith that God has given to you. Might less than ideal situations crop up in your life? Absolutely! But the faith in our Father is more than capable to overcome all obstacles, and you will realize that “the best to come” has already arrived.
Be “intentional” in 2020 as you focus squarely on the Lord Jesus through His Word, prayer, worship and service.
It was certainly a nice break from the daily routines to be able to spend a week at the beach with Lynn, Rachael, Bonnie and Claira. The hurricane had passed and had not lashed the coast as some had feared, the campground saved from its wrath, and as we arrived the sun was shining and the busy town of Myrtle Beach was busy getting back to work as it prepared to cater to the next wave of tourists who provide so much to their local economy.
But as with all vacations, they are temporal, and inevitably we are faced with the reality that upon their conclusion, we must return to the afore-mentioned daily routine. We are in a very real way, governed by an unwritten code that decries; “back to work”!
Now I certainly understand that for many, getting back to work is really not something that is looked forward too. Jobs are called jobs for a reason, if they were anything other than that, then they wouldn’t be called a job. Even the word “job”, carries with it a negative connotation as opposed to the word “vacation”. I consider myself very fortunate that after most of my life, I have been called into a job that brings more spiritual satisfaction and enjoyment than I could have ever thought possible. But in spite of my personal enjoyment of being your Pastor, it does not exclude me from the necessity of “getting back to work”.
From a perspective of serving the church, too many Christians treat the church in the same manner as that of their secular responsibilities. Summer provides the opportunity to lay low, take a few weeks off, take a break from worshiping God, and so forth and so on. But summer always has a shelf life, and once it has expired, we come face to face with our God who lovingly (yet firmly), calls us to “get to work”.
So how are we to respond, or perhaps more aptly, how do we find the time, talents, energy and desire to respond? This could very well be the greatest conundrum facing the Christian in today’s world, and thankfully, while it is normal and quite okay to ask it of ourselves, we don’t have search very far for the answer.
Joshua! That’s right, Joshua. Now, before you start searching the area for some wizened guru named Joshua, let me save you the trouble. The 6th book of the Old Testament, Joshua. My return from my self-imposed vacation found me meditating on these ancient words, and in them the answer to our pressing question; “how do I find the time, talent, energy and desire to respond”, was revealed.
There is, of course on caveat. I am presenting Joshua on Sunday mornings as a primer for you, to understand what your role in the service of our Lord looks like, how you can get there, and how you can obtain victory once you have entered into your Canaan land. Will you meet with us every Sunday to hear what the Lord is asking of you? I pray that I see you soon, and often!
Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed; praise be to God! We joyfully shouted those words out on Easter morning as we gathered for our sunrise service, and again as we gathered for our morning worship service, and truthfully and rightly so. For Jesus Christ has indeed risen from the grave, death could not keep Him in that tomb. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important (f)act that every single Christian, everywhere, for all time, finds as the foundation for our faith and our beliefs.
The Apostle Paul actually had some very strong words about the resurrection, note in his letter to the Corinthian church; “now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are misrepresenting God…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:12-20) (Bold mine)
It is an unfortunate reality however, that there are many, self-proclaimed Christians, who deny this reality. Just this week in a post from the NY Times, protestant minister and president of Union Theological Seminary, Serene Jones was interviewed for an Easter Sunday edition. This was her response to a question about the validity of the resurrection; “There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.” When pressed by the interviewer about no resurrection she added these pearls; “the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there…what if tomorrow they found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie?”
Ummm, yes Ms. Jones, that would indeed mean that Christianity was a lie. And I am pretty sure that Peter, John, James, Thomas, Paul and the rest of the Disciples who ultimately experienced a martyr’s death for the sake of their Lord Jesus, were not, as you so eloquently put it, “kidding themselves”. Jesus warned His listeners at the Sermon on the Mount to “beware false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” John warned the early churches in his 1st letter that there would be those who “went out from us, but were not of us; for if they would have been of us, they would have continued with us.”
We exclaim Christ is Risen because He truly has. There is no symbolism, allegory, literary manipulation or whatever you might want it to be. No other option exists that has any credibility or viability. As C.S. Lewis once stated; “Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was who He said He was.” Lewis’ was in essence summing up a brilliant argument that had actually been set forth a century earlier by Scotch Christian “Rabbi” John Duncan who formulated what he called a “trilemma.”
Duncan’s argument in its basic form went like this;
Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.
In 1936, Watchman Nee mad a similar argument in his book, Normal Christian Faith. He exclaimed this trilemma in this way;
First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.
Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie.
Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.
If you do not believe that he is God, you have to consider him a madman.
If you cannot take him for either of the two, you have to take him for a liar.
There is no reason for us to prove if Jesus of Nazareth is God or not. All we have to do is find out if He is a lunatic or a liar. If He is neither, He must be the Son of God.
It is not enough that Satan continues his attempts to silence Christians, all one has to do is turn on the news on any given day, note the senseless bombings on Easter morning in Sri Lanka which targeted churches with practicing Christians. No, that is not enough for him, he must also infiltrate Christianity at its very core with false doctrines being spewed from mouths of false teachers. In the case of Serene Jones, she is influencing countless future Pastors, Missionaries, and church leaders.
It is for this very reason that my job is one that involves a great responsibility to build all of you up in your faith. In this rapidly declining society, perhaps now more than ever should we give careful consideration to Paul’s instruction to Timothy; “preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”. (2 Tim. 4:1-4)
Let us not just exclaim that He has risen on Easter Sunday, instead let it be your cry of salvation every morning when you get up out of bed! Without the resurrection, we are of all people most to be pitied!
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-23
With a troubled spirit and a great deal of sorrow on my heart I am compelled by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and my call and responsibility as a minister of the Gospel to openly and without hesitation call for the repentance of those who orchestrated the bill that expanded what was already the most liberal abortion laws in the country. Not only were laws set that allowed for the termination of the baby in the womb at any time during the pregnancy, but puppet masters of the evil one celebrated the passage of this bill. New York governor Andrew Cuomo praised the passage of legislation, by calling it “a giant step forward. Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion.”
If he means a giant step forward with the license to sin openly and without provocation, then I suppose his remarks are correct, as this is how I see it, He is however, not. He brazenly walks in accord with a post-modern world which proudly proclaims ‘my truth is what I want it to be, whatever that may be’. Those who embrace this ideology take residence in their ivory towers and look down on those who don’t embrace their freedom of thought, they call them such derogatory terms such as racists, hate-mongers, old fashioned, out of touch/date, religious freaks, etc. All the while they smugly pat each other on the back and lay claim to this so-called new age thought process. ‘How smart we are, what is truth’, they proudly proclaim, as if they are the first to ever utter this provocative phrase.
It seems to me those words sound a little bit too familiar. Pontius Pilate uttered this very same phrase to Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate was a post-modern long before anyone even knew what post-modernism represented. When we read this exchange between Jesus and Pilate, the defendant (Jesus) has in fact become the witness. Pilate wasn’t responding with a genuine question to Jesus’ preceding statement (for this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth, everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me; John 18:38). Instead he was dismissing truth, he was in fact dismissing Jesus. Let that sink in for a minute!
Everyone who dismisses truth, who says that there is no truth, that truth is a figment of whatever I want it to be, does indeed not know the truth. This is set in stark contrast to those who know and who follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus bore witness to this fact, everyone who is of the truth hears His voice and knows Him. I don’t seek after the truth or lay claim to some new (or old) fanciful
version of ‘whatever your truth is, is good for you.’ I already know the truth, and it is revealed in Jesus Christ. I only seek to understand the truth better, so that my thoughts, deeds and character are defined by how I love and apply the truth in a very sinful world.
Governor Cuomo, and every single person who has endorsed abortion, has indeed “heaped coals upon their own head” and has incurred a wrath that they will never be able to account for in the sight of a Holy God. But the good news is aptly stated, repentance and forgiveness are available and offered to all by the only one who has the authority to do so, the Lord Jesus, but it is a temporal offer. When your time is up, that’s it, the finish line is crossed, the time for repentance and forgiveness is lost.
For those who know the Good Shepherd, who know His voice, the time for silence is certainly not now! Scripture calls us to be submissive to the machinations of the government we reside in, except when that government oversteps Godly decreed boundaries. The state is never a voice that takes precedent over the voice of the Lord Jesus!
Sunday, December 2nd begins the Advent season. A frenetic month of shopping, decorating, baking, gift wrapping and let’s not forget traveling, visiting, and did I mention shopping. Despite all of the trappings of consumeristic Christmas, I happen to love this season, always have, and despite the many differing beliefs in our national landscape, it seems to me that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual in the month of December. I can’t help but wonder, do I, as a Christian have a naïve outlook on this particular holiday season? In spite of my rather unscientific claim of “it seems that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual”, the reality for many is one of extreme hardship during this (or any) Christmas season.
Regardless of the nature of the hardship, many people will view the Christmas season not as a season of joy, but rather a season of increased anxiety, despair or depression. The normal burdens of life when working in concerto with the increased anxieties of a holiday season can and often do exasperate a person who is emotionally and mentally healthy, how much worse is it for the friend, family member or co-worker who is battling daily just trying to ‘get by’? As I consider this very real situation in contrast to the birth narrative of the baby Jesus, I see a cast of characters who dealt with more anxiety and despair than they did of the emotion of joy.
Joseph, the father of Jesus, was conspiring to divorce Mary privately. Mary gave birth in an animal’s pen to baby Jesus and had to lay him in a food trough. The three Magi only wanted to pay honor to the birth of the ‘king of the Jews’ but had to deal with wicked King Herod who openly practiced murder on his own family members and would shortly attempt genocide by killing all Jewish boys under the age of two, which also made Joseph flee his homeland with Mary and Jesus with no job or connections in Egypt. The shepherds, who were working the 3rd shift (midnights) receive a visit from an angel of the Lord, and it fills them initially with fear! After being reassured by the angel to ‘fear not’ they travel to Bethlehem and visit Joseph and Mary, telling them all that had happened. And they glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard, as they returned to their 3rd shift of watching sheep.
When we view the birth of Jesus in this manner, we see that mostly it was without joy, that the burdens of every day living probably were even greater than what many of us experience today. But yet, here we are, spreading Christmas cheer as if it is some mythical force which suddenly makes all things better, if only for a few weeks.
But is it really mythical? I suppose if we view Christmas from a secular world view, then indeed this “joy” is temporal, or not at all. But when we celebrate Christmas in that we are honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, then suddenly our perspective changes. When we read the Gospels, only Matthew and Mark record the narrative of the birth of baby Jesus. It is in those narratives where thy mysteries uttered by the prophets so long ago are finally revealed. The Messiah, that every God-fearing Hebrew had long anticipated bursts into the world in a most unusual and unexpected way. But it is in the Gospel of John where we read of the significance of this event; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be save through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
It is this event that I celebrate every year during December. The food, fellowship, gifts and laughter are by-products of this event, in and of themselves they provide little and represent even less (not that I am suggesting that fellowship and laughter are not needed and welcome), but it is because of the birth of Jesus Christ that making merry has any real significance at all. And yes, after the holiday season a cynical, hurting, sinful world does return to what they were doing. The 3rd shifts still calls many to the midnight routines, the sick are still sick, the depressed still depressed and the despaired still despairing. But it doesn’t need to be this way, (except for maybe that 3rd shift thing);
The birth of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords is my rock, placed a long time ago on the bank of the river Jordan. It is from this grand event that I draw a plum line all the way through history straight into my walk of faith today. it is this starting point that gives me hope, fills me with joy, and makes my paths straight, in spite of my own efforts to veer left or right. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t struggle daily, that I don’t battle with anxiety, or sickness or the ever-imminent threat of losing loved ones. This is the world that we live in, the sinful nature of all of us is the very reason that we do have a daily struggle (but that’s another topic for another day).
This Christmas season, like every Christmas season, I celebrate with joy! Joy because God sent Christ Jesus down for me, joy because He set me free, joy because He will come again, joy because He calls me His friend!
We don’t hear the term “playing second fiddle” used to often anymore. I suppose it’s probably not “hip” enough to warrant the usage of this terminology by anyone who considers themselves a “progressive thinker” or even a post-modernist. Such idioms have long since lost their attraction to an ever-changing people while they, at the same time, create and implement new ones.
In case you were wondering, the meaning of this particular idiom is to place yourself in submission to someone. Its origin can be found in the orchestra world where violinists would be classified by 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so forth, with 1st being the most accomplished chair. During the heyday of its popularity, this expression was used not only for individual submission, but also for prioritizing events, tasks and functions. One would say for example; I like going to football games but it will always play second fiddle to baseball.
I am for all practical purposes not a “progressive thinker”, I largely have a fondness for many traits, characteristics and especially idioms of years gone by. I bring this to bear because of the startling exodus that has been occurring for many years now by those who would identify as a “millennial” (born from 1981-1996) from any organized religion (most notably, Christianity). Alarmingly this trend appears to be carrying over to the “post-millennial” generation as well. Perhaps the most startling revelation however is that the millennials cannot lay claim to the origins of this departure. That prize can actually be awarded to the “baby boomers”, whose slow but steady departure paved the way for “generation Xers” and so on and so forth.
I used the idiom “second fiddle” because it seems to me that many in our churches today (regardless of their generational identification) are operating with a spirit of malaise. In the western hemisphere the church as a whole is dancing dangerously close to stagnation and paralysis, an “I’ll go to church, or serve, or worship this Sunday, or whatever, at my local church…unless something better comes along”.
Do a Google search and you will find countless authors giving countless reasons with countless amounts of remedies to this trending predicament. I don’t presuppose to have an answer to the alarming exodus from church, nor do I fully understand a person’s desire to place self interest over a God who redeemed them from their sins. But what I can speak to is the “playing second fiddle” and despite its negative connotation, it is actually more desirable than one might think.
If we carefully consider the definition of said idiom, we cannot ignore the “placing yourself in submission to someone”. Is it not our Lord Jesus who came down from His heavenly abode and placed Himself in complete submission to the will of His Father? Did God ask Abraham to offer up his son Isaac on the altar to see if he would place his son above his God? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “yes”, and in both examples, there were certainly great opportunities for submission to be set aside in lieu of self-interest.
As mentioned previously, there is no shortage of self-help programs available, but it seems to me that if we truly want to make any attempt whatsoever to stem this tide of complacency, it needs to start with each one of us individually. If we truly are concerned about the growing exodus from our local churches, we first need to place a premium on our own investment into our local churches.
We must demonstrate a reliance upon our fellow body of believers and more importantly a reliance on Jesus Christ. The exact opposite is all too often happening, when we are placing self-interests first we establish patterns of behavior that are mimicked and put into practice by a watchful audience. That audience can be your neighbor, your spouse, your children or your grandchildren.
The call of the church right now needs to be one of us playing “second fiddle” to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and not our Lord playing “second fiddle” to our desires. The manifestation of us submitting to the Lord establishes the standard and daily practice of submitting to each other, collectively, under His Holy name. It will be through and by this mutual submission that the body of believers will then be able to effectively join to the mission of our Lord. As he said to his disciples, “peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21).
There is an old saying that Christians are the only group that “shoots its own wounded” (metaphorically speaking). I cannot speak to the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of this particular statement, but the reality of the origin of this statement lends itself to, at the very basic level, a general statement which contains some elements of truth.
There certainly are no shortage of pundits who gleefully express their musings about this particular subject (Google this statement and prepare to be amazed), and to be clear, let us not enter into a matter of semantics with regards to the context. At the heart of the matter is the very real act of Christian brothers and sisters who are, on any given day, dishing out or receiving hateful criticism within their very own. The unfortunate reality of such incidents usually results in broken friendships, distrust, alienation, splits from congregations, and in some instances, unabashed hatred. The real question isn’t “does this really happen” but rather “why this happens?”
If I wanted to be short and concise I could simply state that Christians, while having a new nature/heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit, still face battles with the flesh. Battles that lead us down roads that we don’t want to go down, into arenas of life that we thought might have been left behind in our old sinful state. It is in these battles where our old sinful self tries to make a revival. Paul speaks of these personal battles in Romans 7:15-21. Within the confines of these battles Christians can, and do bring pain and hurt to other Christians.
It is on this point that it must be said; Christians can and will offend you and hurt your feelings! To ignore that fact, or to paint a picture in your mind of a Christian who can’t offend is quite unrealistic. You may say; “that is how a Christian should be, or they should be a reflection of Christ” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But friends, short of this side of heaven, this ideal that a Christian is perfect, is simply that, an ideal! Yes, as Christians we strive to be in the image of our Lord, that is what the theologian would call ‘sanctification’. But this is a life-long process where completion occurs only when we are called to be with the Lord, or He comes back first, either way, we don’t realize a completion of it, only our Lord Jesus does.
At this point the question turns on a hinge, it’s not a matter anymore of “why”, instead the absolute question then is “what we do with this hurt that our fellow brother or sister has given us?” Let me offer up just a few conclusions;
I find it interesting that Jesus puts the onus on the one who has been grieved to seek reconciliation with those who have doled out the grief. Matthew 5:22-25 leaves no room for lingering anger, and just in case you thought that may be a one off, please do not forget Jesus’ response to Peter in Matthew 18:22. Peter thought he might have been playing it smart when he suggested that to forgive his brother seven times far outweighed the ancient Judaism custom of offering forgiveness just three times. Instead Jesus’ reply is not seven, but seventy times seven.
In the final analysis, we live in a world that specializes in division and hostility, but yet, the Christian man and woman still tries to reach into this world, to befriend it, to bring it to the altar of our Lord Jesus, to find peace and healing. Let us stop attacking our own, we are not called to be imitators of the world, we are called to be imitators of Jesus Christ!